The Carolina Hurricanes got their first wins against the Southeast Division on back-to-back nights this weekend, but came away with a big loss. Goalie Cam Ward — who was forced to pull double duty Sunday after Dan Ellis was sick prior to the game — got the win in both games against the Panthers but suffered a third-degree sprain to the MCL in his left knee Sunday and will be out six to eight weeks.
Carolina now has 25 points through 21 games, good for first-place in the Southeast. Here's a closer look at what happened in the two wins over Florida.
1. The third line finally came to life this weekend with Riley Nash and Jussi Jokinen leading the charge. Nash got his first NHL goal Saturday, part of a three-point night that almost included an earlier goal when he rang the post behind Scott Clemmensen. Jokinen doubled his goal output for the season with two first-period tallies Saturday night. There's still the question of who plays alongside Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner on the second line (for my money, it should be Patrick Dwyer, since I think the Jokinen-Nash combination can be successful with a different winger), but it's nice to see some production from the bottom six.
2. Alexander Semin continues to amaze for the Canes. He had a goal and three assists over the weekend, plus a gem of a defensive play to negate a breakaway opportunity for the Panthers. The thing that amazes me most about Semin — even beyond what a good passer he is — is how well he uses his skates to force turnovers. The latest example was the keep he had on Eric Staal's first goal Saturday. I don't know that there's a player in the game right now who better uses his feet better to gain possession of the puck. Something definitely worth watching for.
3. With Carolina losing Ward and Florida's Jose Theodore going down with a groin injury, the Southeast is suddenly devoid of veteran goaltenders. Ellis will take the reins in Carolina, and despite having just 172 games played in the NHL ranks third among the division’s netminders in seniority. Only Tampa Bay backup Mathieu Garon (332 games) and Winnipeg starter Ondrej Pavelec (202) have played more than Ellis. Florida will likely lean on promising goaltender-of-the-future Jacob Markstrom, and the rest of the division (outside of Ellis) will need an under-25 goalie to lead the charge for them. It hurts to lose Ward and will certainly impact the Hurricanes’ point total, but the team is in good hands with Ellis.
Number To Know
.405 — Percentage of games won by Hurricanes goalies other than Cam Ward since the start of the 2006-07 season. The team has won just 47 of 116 games without Ward in net (47-55-14). The good news is the only two times the Hurricanes have been above .500 without Ward are in 2009-10 (16-10-5 when Ward was out with a skate cut injury, led by veteran Manny Legace) and this season (Ellis is 3-2).
Justin Faulk — The 20-year-old got a Gordie Howe hat trick over the two games against the Panthers. Saturday he had an assist and also pummeled Florida alternate captain Stephen Weiss after Weiss elbowed Faulk. Then Sunday he opened the scoring by one-timing a puck off the boards and past Clemmensen. In all, Faulk logged 46:11 in the two games and was a plus-3 with four hits and three blocked shots over the weekend.
Joni Pitkanen — One wonders if Pitkanen — seeing his teammates all back in Thursday's 4-1 win over Pittsburgh — rushed himself back into the lineup Saturday. Regardless of if he did or not, he's back on the shelf again after playing just 6:02 Saturday at PNC Arena. His absence leaves a void on the back end, particularly on special teams, even though Bobby Sanguinetti’s improving confidence is evident. GM Jim Rutherford probably already realized he likely needed to add a defense-first blueliner down the stretch, and with Pitkanen — a capable defensive player despite his reputation as offensive-minded — and now Ward out, it might expedite his pursuit of such a player.