Sid the Kid comes to the RBC tonight with his young friends, Jordan Staal, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Malone, and Ryan Whitney. Some older friends will join him as well which include, Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar, and Gary Roberts. Don't forget the bad guys, Brooks Orpik, Colby Armstrong, and now Georges Laraque. The Penguins had been on a roll for quite some time earning points in 16 straight games and have risen to 5th place in the Conference. Although, lately they have lost 3 of 6. They didn't sit idly by during the waning hours of the trade deadline, acquiring both Roberts and Laraque, showing that everyone in the organization from Super Mario to the stick boy feels this team has what it takes to make some noise in the playoffs. Crosby leads the league in points with 97 and no one else is within shouting distance of him. Jordan Staal scored another short-handed goal last night and leads the league with 6 for the season. He's probably drooling just thinking about the Canes juicy power play which quite typically allows more shots against than shots for. Maybe things will change tonight?
The Hurricanes are coming off a disappointing 2 game sweep by the Ottawa Senators, the hottest team in the Eastern Conference. As I have mentioned before on this blog, Carolina's recent home struggles are frustrating fans. They have only won 5 of the past 16 at the RBC and for whatever reason seem to have trouble playing 60 consecutive minutes of inspired hockey. Their passing and timing looks out of synch. Their shots are just off. Something has got to give for them, or they will be too far behind to have a realistic chance of obtaining that sacred 8th and final playoff spot. They simply need to start winning consistently. The good news is that the team hasn't given up yet. I was listening to a Justin Williams interview on 850TheBuzz yesterday afternoon and he sounded very upbeat. He said that the team still feels very confident in what they can accomplish and they are close to putting things together. Of course they are as disappointed and frustrated as everyone else is about the loses, but there are no more excuses. They need to start winning hockey games. He said that they got a visit from Ron Francis after the game Tuesday night and the "Franchise" told them that they are in a similar situation that he was in with Pittsburgh back in 1992, the year after they first won the Cup. The Penguins barely squeaked into the playoffs, but ended up winning the Cup again that year. Isn't it great to have one of the best players to ever play the game come into your locker room for some inspiration? If that doesn't get the boys worked up, nothing will!
There has been a lot of speculation where ever I turn, about what is wrong with the Canes. There have also been a few comments here. The 3rd line center position has certainly been lacking from the production they had last year. The 4rth line hasn't scored nearly what they scored last year either. It appears just from watching that in several games the Hurricane's defense isn't up to snuff, they are allowing too many open shots. Also, neither of the goalies have a save percentage of .900, the basic measuring stick of being a decent NHL goalie. So at first look, it would appear that the Canes are simply allowing too many goals. But, if we look at the stats from last year, the Canes ended up scoring 294 goals and allowing 260. With only 16 games to go, they are well below both totals having scored 195 and having allowed 204. Of course they are much further behind the goals scored statistic than the goals allowed. If they continue at the current pace, Ward and Grahame will allow fewer goals than what were allowed last year, meaning that the problem this year seems to be more offensive than defensive.
I'm not sure how important all these statistics are, the bottom line is that the team needs to play better as a team. The offense, defense, goalies, and coaching all need to step it up. Yep, I'm putting some blame on Laviolette as well. The lines have been constantly jumbled, topsy turvy, and they are not even consistent throughout a game, let alone a few games. I'd be surprised if anyone knew who they were going to play with at any given time. Staal, Ladd, and Walker were dominating a few games ago, then they were broken up. Williams, Brind'Amour, and Whitney have also been a dominant line, but they haven't played together lately. What gives with the musical lines? As I said in my previous comments, there is plenty of blame to go around and plenty of room for improvement from everyone.
The RBC will be rocking tonight and the game is nearly sold out. There's no doubt it will be sold out by gametime, better get your tickets at lunch if you plan on going. The Hurricanes should be as motivated as anytime in the season to play hard and get a win. Everyone is healthy and should be available to play besides Erik Cole. Tim Gleason tweaked his wrist on Wednesday, but it's probable that he will play. There are plenty of mini-dramas to watch unfold. Eric Staal will be trying to school his younger brother. Brooks Orpik and Colby Armstrong will probably be trying to lay out more unsuspecting Canes. Will anyone lay them out? Will Georges Laraque make his presence known? Can the Canes play 60 solid minutes without collapsing? If they can't get the jump on the Pens tonight while they had the day off yesterday and the Pens played an overtime game last night, they may never be able to. Good luck charm Katherine Fritsch will be in the house again tonight. All signs point to a Hurricanes victory! Let's go get em Canes!