Game Analysis: Hurricanes At Canadiens

The Carolina Hurricanes closed out their three-game road trip with a win, rallying in the third period to overtake the Canadiens and give Kirk Muller a 5-3 win in his first visit to Montreal as a head coach. Eric Staal scored twice, and Jiri Tlusty, Jaroslav Spacek and Jamie McBain added goals for the Canes, who collected four of a possible six points on their trip.

Carolina now stands at 21-25-11 with 53 points, still last in the Eastern Conference, but only two points behind 11th-place Montreal and nine out of the eighth playoff spot.

Three Observations

1. Muller and Spacek likely enjoyed their return to Montreal, but Tomas Kaberle surely didn't like how his night went against his old team. Kaberle — who signed a deal with Carolina this offseason only to the be dealt to the Canadiens for Spacek after having a rough start to the year — has been better with the Habs than he was with the Hurricanes, but was abused by Staal on the shorthanded tying goal that proved the most pivotal moment in the game.

2. After not taking a penalty against Colorado last Friday, the Canes had a comparative parade to the box Monday, particularly in the second period when their 2-0 lead was erased by three straight Montreal goals, including two on the power play. The good news for Carolina is the other half of their special teams, the power play, broke out of an 0-for-February slump that had seen them not score in four straight games. Spacek tallied in the second on a nice cross-crease feed from Jeff Skinner, then McBain got the game-winner by bouncing on rebound created by a dominant Staal shift. It wasn't the best special teams night of the young Muller era, but tack on the Staal shortie and the team showed it could stand tall when it is needed the most.

3. The Canadiens look a lot like the Hurricanes did before the dismissal of coach Paul Maurice: a team struggling to find an identity. Erik Cole was a force all night and P.K. Subban dazzled at times with the puck, but for the most part the Habs' top players were invisible. Scott Gomez, who finally got a goal recently after going more than a year without one, wasn't noticeable, and Andrei Kostitsyn all but bought his ticket out of town with a downright indifferent effort. It's too bad for interim coach Randy Cunneyworth, who is getting his first chance as the head man on the bench but seems unlikely to hold on to that spot given Montreal's play.

Number To Know

11 — Shorthanded goals for Staal in his career, pushing him past Rod Brind`Amour for tops in Hurricanes history (in 77 fewer games, to boot) and tying him with Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who had 11 for the Whalers in the 1980s, for the most in franchise history. Staal has never been considered an elite defensive forward, but he is often unappreciated when it comes to his own-zone prowess. Shorthanded goals aren't necessarily a benchmark for defensive ability, but it's an impressive mark, nonetheless.

Plus

Eric Staal — It's hard to deny the captain his second straight "plus." He was a handful all night and could've easily had a hat trick given all the chances he created. His shorthanded goal in the third tied the game, and he created McBain's goal by getting two Grade-A chances, the second of which creating a rebound that the defenseman potted for the game-winner. Staal also finished the game plus-3, making him a combined plus-8 during his current five-game run in which he has seven points and has been a plus player in each game.

Minus

Tuomo Ruutu — It wasn't what Ruutu did on the ice, it was the fact he wasn't on it for long. Ruutu lasted just 105 seconds before leaving with an upper body injury that, an MRI Tuesday revealed, will keep him out about three weeks. It's the worst possible news for both Ruutu and the Hurricanes, as the injury weakens Ruutu's negotiation stance — you can bet Jim Rutherford will bring up potential games missed if Ruutu's agent proposes a three- or four-year deal — and Carolina's ability to deal him at the deadline if an extension can't be hammered out.

Miscellaneous News

The Hurricanes recalled Drayson Bowman from Charlotte just two days after assigning him to Charlotte, sending Jerome Samson back to the Checkers. With Ruutu out for an extended period, Carolina will likely recall another forward as well. The Canes next play Friday when they host the San Jose Sharks.

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