As most of you know, the Hurricanes lost last night to the Habs, 3-2 in over-time. It's only one game so it's not fair to make too much of it, but there are certainly areas that the team can improve on. Cam Ward was excellent most of the game. He really deserved better than to lose, but when a team allows 40 shots on goal, a loss is usually not far behind no matter who is in net. In my opinion the defense had trouble most of the night breaking the puck out of their own zone. This is not a new problem and plagued the team last year as well. Nic Wallin, the object of an impending offseason trade to obtain the much needed "puck moving defensman" (before he nixed it by exercising his no trade clause) was the goat last night. He took 2 questionable penalties which both led to Saku Koivu goals. I mention that the calls were questionable because it didn't look like he did much to deserve them, but Nic and some others on the team don't seem to "play smart" at times. If someone is falling, don't have your stick down by his skates. Don't give refs the opportunity to make bad calls. Sometimes, Tim Gleason seems to care more about starting a confrontation than he does about winning a game. It's in the 3rd period and Carolina is losing, and he's starting rough stuff as if he is totally oblivious to the fact that if he gets a penalty it will hurt the team's chances for a comeback. He's done this before as well. Speaking of Gleason, I thought he had a bad game. Twice he fell in the crease and actually inhibited Ward from doing his job, causing Cam to give him a shove at one point. I thought the defense as a whole was a step slow in getting to the puck tonight. It seemed to me that Montreal was able to keep consistent pressure in the Carolina zone much of the game. While the Canes had some decent chances, they couldn't sustain the same kind of consistent, overall pressure, hence the discrepancy in the shot totals, Montreal 40, Carolina 31. The penalties ended up even at 8 apiece.
Hockey is a strange game sometimes. To their credit, the Hurricanes came out buzzing in the 1st period and created lots of scoring chances. They scored on their first power-play and looked pretty good on most of the others. They had two 5 on 3 opportunities, but failed to score on either of them. While the power-play looked better, the puck didn't go in the net enough. Ray Whitney had the best chance at what looked to be a wide open net, but somehow Huet made a miraculous save with the heel of his stick. I say that hockey is strange because if the Canes would have jumped to a 2-0 or 3-0 lead, which was certainly a good possibility, then it's a completely different game. But when a team squanders a 5 on 3 opportunity, (or two of them), it can suck the life out of the squad and fill the other team with renewed confidence. That's what seemed to happen last night as Montreal gained more and more confidence with every penalty they were able to kill and the Canes looked more and more tentative, especially in the 2nd period.
While the Canes were able to score "only one" goal, and earn "only one" point, again keep in mind that it is "only one" game, so there's no reason to push the panic button yet. But starting off the season on the right foot is extremely important. Last year the Ducks were 12-0-3 their first 15 games. The year that Tampa Bay won the Cup, they didn't lose a game in regulation during the month of October either. In 2005-06, the Canes were 7-2-1 in October. Once a team falls behind the 8 ball early in the season, it's very hard to pull back up and stay there. Carolina did prove that it was possible back in 2002, but it's not the norm.
Cory Stillman was a late scratch last night because of abdominal pain. It seems that he was involved in an auto accident on Tuesday, or "fender bender" as he put it, and was in pain and was unable to play. He'll be listed as day-to-day and is questionable at this point for Friday night. I hope it's not his back or neck. Sometimes those problems can linger for awhile. The defense will need to step up and figure out a way to limit the Penguins to less than 40 shots on Friday, or it will be another sad drive home for Caniacs after that game as well. I'm sure that coach Lavi is working on it. Get better soon Cory!
The Goo Goo Dolls