Aaron Ward and Matt Cullen return to the RBC tonight for the first time since hoisting the Cup on June 19th, that magical night people from Raleigh will never forget. Both players chose to take more money than what the Canes could offer, (or wanted to offer), for the brighter lights, taller buildings, and "better life" of New York City. But both players have been severely missed. While Eric Belanger is a steady, hard working center, he will never be the speedy, play-making sparkplug that Cullen was for us last year. That's not even counting how Cullen was always money for us in the shootouts where he is not even being utilized by the Rangers. What a waste! But saying how we miss Matt Cullen is small potatoes as to how we miss Aaron Ward. Other than Mike Commodore, we have very little physical presence on the blue line. Aaron always used his body to either block shots or attempt to hit oncoming wingers. Blogger, John DeMartino put it very well in his new blog, Carolina Blue Line and I couldn't agree with him more. Imagine the difference if we had Ward instead of Tanabe? Oh well, no sense in crying over spilled milk. Welcome to the blog world John!
Speaking of crying, I got a little good natured teasing about my "Love Hurts" post yesterday. Well, I can take it. This morning I looked at the picture I have of myself hugging the Cup, listened to "The Rising", and then all that team love came rushing back to me, no problemo! I'm ready for the Rangers tonight! Peter Laviolette was quoted in the paper this morning as saying that the Canes need this game to make this homestand "okay". Going 3-1 on this homestand wouldn't be bad. I don't think anyone would complain much about that, but we need to win tonight to accomplish that. The Rangers came off a tough home win last night, beating the Devils 3-2 after scoring all three goals in the 3rd period erasing New Jersey's 2-0 lead. Let's hope Jagr tired himself out last night! I'd expect Kevin Weekes to be in net tonight since Lundquist played last night. Ex-Canes Sandish Ozolinsh will also be playing after returning from his rehab stint earlier this year. While Cullen and Ward were cheered loudly during their last game with the Canes, Weekes and Ozolinsh were both booed. I always felt badly when Weekes was booed and replaced in our final home game back in 2004. Hopefully, he has gotten over it and doesn't hold it against the majority of Caniacs who appreciated his hard work for our franchise. We really need to take advantage of the Rangers playing back to backs and dominate tonight.
Jagr leads NY in scoring with 28 points while Nylander and Shanahan (another ex-franchise player), have 25 and 23 points respectively. Martin Straka and Petr Prucha are also both dangerous offensive players. Wow, looking at the scoring leaders, Aaron Ward has turned offensive and has 8 points with 2 goals and 6 assists! That is good enough for 7th place on the team, just behind Matt Cullen who is 6th with 10 points. I bet Wardo is letting his bud hear about that! Of course Brind'Amour and Whitney still lead the Canes with 25 and 24 points. Staal and Williams are just behind them. Wallin is still out but Gleason was at practice yesterday and he could play tonight. Looking at the team plus/minus rating, the Adams family has the worst with -8 for Kevyn and -7 for Craig. Come on boys, time to put a dent in those dismal stats! Go Canes!