The Carolina Hurricanes are making a statement. I think that part of the statement they are making is that they are just getting started. Tonight, they completed a tough 3 game Canadian road trip and defeated the Montreal Canadiens on their home opener, 3-1. This win, just after they handed the Ottawa Senators their first defeat of the season, and beat the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier in the week at the ACC! The Hurricanes will come home for a couple of days of rest now before heading back out on the road to play the Pens and Flyers next weekend.
The Canadiens started out very strongly this game and took a 1-0 lead on a nice shot by Christopher Higgins almost right at the first minute mark of the game. Tim Gleason actually created the chance for the Habs when he turned over the puck to them on a very weak clearing attempt. To Gleason's credit though and the rest of the defense, that was the only glaring mistake that I remember them making for the rest of the night. Surprisingly, the box score says that the Habs only took 4 shots on goal during the 1st period. While watching the game, it seemed like they took more than that. They certainly controlled the puck for decent periods of time in their offensive zone early in the game. Once again, the Canes found their legs about half way through the 1st period and then started to control the game from that point, until they took the lead. Cory Stillman scored the tying goal on a rebound shot during a 5 on 3 advantage. Matt Cullen scored the game winner on a nice shot from the slot during a power play near the end of the 2nd period. Chad LaRose shot the final tally into an empty net on a nice hustle play when he beat 2 Habs in a race to the puck taking advantage of a good Justin Williams clear.
The Canes were without Mike Commodore, (hip), Andrew Ladd, (ankle), and most recently Dennis Seidenberg, (knee). David Tanabe filled in for Seidenberg and had a much better outing than his last one in Washington. All of the injured players are day to day and could return to action next week.
Without singling anyone out, the defense as a whole played a good game tonight and has played very well the past 3 games. Cam Ward was outstanding again in net. During the 3rd period while in full desperation mode, the Canadiens threw everything at him but the kitchen sink, and to his credit Cam was equal to the task. The kid has looked absolutely brilliant so far this season. He has a record of 4-0-1, a GAA of below 2, and a save percentage of about .950. What more can you say about Cam? The power play has come alive for the Canes during this win streak as they scored 2 more with the man advantage tonight. (actually one was with a 2 man advantage). Offensively speaking, I think that both Eric Staal and Erik Cole are looking much more consistent so far this year than last. A healthy Cory Stillman seems to make a big difference to this team, especially on the power play. Matt Cullen has also been huge, and is all over the ice. He has 3 goals so far this season! I can't believe that some people actually complained about trading Joe Barnes and Andrew Hutchinson to get him back. Think the Rangers might be regretting that trade right now? One of the interesting things about this win streak? I think that Rod Brind'Amour, Ray Whitney, Scott Walker, and Justin Williams could all play better! Not that they have played poorly, I just don't think that they are at the top of their games right now. Especially Whitney. He just doesn't seem to be himself, but he might not be playing at 100%. It's a little scary to think that the team could actually be playing a bit better.
With Washington and Tampa Bay both losing tonight, the Canes have a little breathing room at the top of the Southeast Division. Remember a couple of years ago, they won the Division title by 20 points? I would love to see a repeat performance of that! Obviously it's very early, but not only is Carolina in first place in their Division, they are also in 2nd place behind Ottawa in the Eastern Conference. It's been a good week Caniacs, enjoy it!