Game Analysis: Hurricanes At Maple Leafs

The Carolina Hurricanes finished a four-game road trip in Toronto Tuesday, falling to the Maple Leafs in overtime, 2-1, at the Air Canada Center. Cam Ward stopped 36 of 38 shots and Alexei Ponikarovsky scored a power play goal in the final two minutes to earn the Canes a point.

Carolina finished its road trip 1-2-1 and now sits at 9-18-5, good for 23 points and last in the Eastern Conference.

Three Observations

1. It seems like one of the wrinkles Kirk Muller and his staff have implemented is attempting to get more tips in the high slot, specifically on the power play. Several times throughout the game the Hurricanes tried for deflections far from the net, hoping that a redirection would get past Toronto goalie James Reimer. It didn't happen Tuesday — in fact, Toronto's first goal was actually scored on such a play — but it's worth keeping an eye on.

2. A big boo to the media member who asked Muller how tough it was to take a guy with Staal's ability and put him on a line with two guys (Jiri Tlusty and Patrick Dwyer) who are not close to his ability (audio here). For those keeping score, Toronto's top line of Phil Kessel, Clarke MacArthur Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak were picked fifth, seventh and undrafted in their respective draft years. Lupul was out of the gates fast in his career but has had injury troubles the past two seasons, and Bozak will be 26 this season, the first he's produced points at a good clip. Tlusty (13th overall in 2006) won't be 24 until March while Dwyer (116th in 2002) is more of a fill-in due to injuries. Staal (second pick in 2003) likely isn't with the guys he'll be with over the long haul, but let's give players — specifically Tlusty — until their mid-20s before we label them untalented. Seeing Bozak play well with a star like Kessel should point to that being sound advice.

3. Reality has set in and the Hurricanes will need to use 2011-12 as a rebuilding year. And that means a sell-off at the trade deadline. But there is some good news. Ponikarovsky's goal pushes him to seven on the season, and if he is hovering at 15 goals comes the deadline you can expect a decent return (at least a third round pick) for him. Tuomo Ruutu would be a very hot commodity (see the pending UFAs and how few are on teams that will be selling off quality players come March), and either one of or both of Tim Gleason and Bryan Allen could fetch a good return, while Jaroslav Spacek would be a good No. 6/depth guy on a Cup front-runner.

Number To Know

9 — Points for Eric Staal since Muller took over seven games ago. He has registed a point in all but one game and is just minus-1 overall in that stretch. He's still a league-worst minus-18 on the season and has scored just twice — both against Calgary — in the Muller Era, but Carolina's captain seems to be regaining form after a brutal start.

Plus

Cam Ward — Without Ward in net, the Hurricanes would have likely left Toronto with a regulation loss, and perhaps an embarrassing one at that. Ward bailed out Carolina throughout the game and wasn't scored upon until a lucky tip by Tim Connolly found its way into the Canes net. Ward looked back to his normal self, even though he surely wanted to hold on to the eventual game-winner that trickled behind him and was knocked in to give the Leafs the win.

Minus

Cam Ward — This has nothing to do with Ward's play — he was stellar. But if one of the main things Muller is asking of captain Staal is to exhibit good body language, shouldn't Ward be held to the same standard? Ward's tirade after being pulled against Winnipeg Friday was shrugged off as an example of a player who wants to win letting his emotions get the best of him. But he again lost his cool after the Leafs scored the overtime winner, breaking his stick across the post as Toronto celebrated. We know Ward wants to win and that his reputation as an even-keeled player makes these instances stand out even more. That being said, if Staal is expected to take the good with the bad and lead by carrying himself with confidence, the same should be expected of Ward.

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