Empty. That describes the Canes powerplay last night. Rod Brind'Amour probably summed it up even better with his one word description, "junk". When you go 0 for 8 and give up two shorties, you aren't going to win that game. If Eric Staal hadn't taken a tripping penalty during another powerplay give-away, the Habs may have ended up with 3 shorties. Obviously the powerplay still needs work. After a decent 1st period where the Canes outskated the Habs but failed to capitalize, most of the 2nd and all of the 3rd periods belonged to the Canadiens. Out of five home games so far this year we have lost three, and two have been shutouts. That's not good and I'll leave it at that. I'll give my Bubba's Star of the game to Chad LaRose. He hustled and gave 100% every shift and not every Hurricane can say the same about their game last night.
It's a bit disconcerting when I look at the standings and I'm not talking about the win and loss columns. We are third in the entire NHL in GA with 51. Only Toronto and Phoenix have allowed more goals at 55 and 53 respectively. Most Caniacs have expected a slow start because of the Stillman and Kaberle injuries, but the return of Cory Stillman isn't going to help reduce the number of goals allowed very much, if at all. Kaberle is even 2 months further away from playing than Stillman is. Our defense isn't going to get better anytime soon without some inner determination, motivation, and good health. Let's take a look at the defense in detail.
Bret Hedican has missed a few games and has been playing injured. He's made a ton of mistakes and does not look like himself and obviously needs to get healthy. Mike Commodore is the man right now for us and is our most physical and consistent presence. But Mike is not a number one defensemen and is probably being pushed into playing more minutes than he is capable of playing at his highest level. Tim Gleason has been a workhorse and has had good moments and bad. He's very steady and is certainly a positive on the blueline but I'm not sure how much he can improve. Nic Wallin is another positive but has also missed several games due to injury and is not playing at 100%. Glen Wesley is steady and has unmatched experience defending on the penalty kill, but he's very slow and isn't getting any faster. He gets beat to the puck on a regular basis. Anton Babchuk still has great potential but is young and has little NHL experience. His confidence is lacking, especially on the point of the powerplay. Andrew Hutchinson has been called our "powerplay specialist". That alone should tell you how much we can rely on him to play defense. His abilities to defend are sporadic at best and he has a zero physical presence. David Tanabe is not so lovingly called "snuggles" by much of the fanbase and is also known for his offensive prowess rather than defense ability. He's yet to show any substantial offense or defense that I have noticed yet, but has also been injured. Now with Gleason injured as well my question is, do we have anyone who is healthy back there?
While our forwards certainly have room for improvement in their play, I'm mostly concerned about our defense. I really can't see them improving much unless Hedican and Wallin suddenly get healthy and can both start playing a ton of minutes at their full capability. If the GA doesn't improve soon, I think Rutherford might be forced to make another trade for a defenseman. Neither of our goalies are going anywhere but both need to tighten up their play as well. While goalies might normally get the blame for a high number of goals allowed, in this case I think it's more a defensive deficiency than in goaltending. But Ward and Grahame both need to improve as well. Hopefully everyone can step up because we will not make the playoffs if we continue to have the third highest GA in the league at the end of the season. That's one bet I know I would win this year!
Taking a brief look around the rest of the league, how about that Russian Malkin kid? Holy smokes that kid is making an impression! I must admit I haven't had a chance to watch him first hand on Center Ice yet, but it speaks volumes when he breaks an 89 year old NHL record for scoring a goal in each of his first 6 games in the league. No wonder the leagues in Russia are doing everything they can to get this kid back, including suing the NHL! While many Caniacs seem to be looking forward to the November 11th matchup with the Penguins as some sort of Brooks Orpik redemption game, I can't wait to see Malkin up close and personal. I'm also looking forward to seeing Jordan Staal, (hopefully he won't score a shortie against us). Oh yeah, there is somebody by the name of Crosby on that team that's fun to watch too.
I know I have ripped on Buffalo in the past, but that team is looking more and more like we did last year. They never seem to be out of a game as they scored 3 goals in the final 8 minutes last night to tie Boston, and then won the game in a shoot-out. It's a lot of fun as a fan knowing your team is never out of a game and has the confidence to come back no matter what.
Our next game is tomorrow night in Ottawa. Martin Gerber will see his old mates as Sens coach Bryan Murray has already committed to playing him this game even though Ray Emery's numbers have been better. Marty has been less than stellar so far this year but is perfectly capable of coming up with a great performance as we saw several times last year. The Senators have been off since Tuesday preparing for this game, let's hope they come out flat. Go Canes!