While watching the first two periods of the game this afternoon, I was hoping that sooner or later something positive would happen to spark the Canes. The team was skating very tentatively, as if they were afraid to make a mistake. It certainly wasn't the most exciting 2 periods of hockey. In my opinion, Michael Leighton provided that needed spark when he took exception to an extra Ben Clymer swat at the puck after the whistle, and gave Clymer a swat back himself. The two players exchanged shoves until team-mates stepped between them. After that, the Canes seemed a bit more energized. Leighton also made a series of sprawling saves in the 3rd period, making a strong case for himself to be Cam Ward's permanent understudy. John Grahame made a few nice saves and handled the puck well, but was unimpressive overall while allowing 2 goals on 11 shots during the first half of the game. Leighton made 15 saves on 16 Capital shots in the second half.
During the third period, the Canes looked like the Canes of the 2005-06 season. They swarmed the net and they attacked in waves. Highly touted defensive prospect Noah Babin opened the scoring for the Hurricanes on a power play as he sneaked in from the point for a closer shot. Eric Staal found him with a perfect pass. About 35 seconds later, Erik Cole scored on his signature power move toward the net. He made the play look easy. Once the score was tied 2-2 the teams battled pretty evenly, but eventually the Capitals were able to keep some sustained pressure in the Carolina zone. With about 2 minutes left, Ben Clymer scored to give Washington a 3-2 lead. I must admit though, it didn't seem like the game was over to me and I think most other fans felt the same way. Sure enough, the Canes were able to manufacture some more pressure of their own. Ryan Bayda patiently held the puck while waiting for Justin Williams to break into the clear. He fed Justin perfectly and Williams made no mistake, burying the shot to tie the game once again. In the overtime, Washington took 2 consecutive minor penalties which gave Carolina a prolonged 5 on 3 advantage. At this point, Eric Staal blasted a shot from the point which Erik Cole was able to redirect into the net for the game-winner.
Other than Babin, none of the defensive prospects really impressed me enough to make me think that they deserve a spot on the team. Ryan Bayda played well in spurts and might have been the best of the forwards who are looking for a spot with the big club. It's still very early in the pre-season though and there's plenty of time for these guys to step up. I thought Michael Leighton was especially impressive, in more ways than one. He's also about a million dollars cheaper than Grahame. This could be just what Grahame needs, some healthy competition so that he knows that backup position isn't his by default. Maybe we'll see him step up as well.
The Caniac Carnival was a huge success and all the available free tickets were given away. Unfortunately, a few unlucky fans who waited in line weren't able to get any. Maybe next year! The weather was perfect and the ending of the game was exciting. All in all, it was a great start to the pre-season!
The Grass Roots