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Tough Enough

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The Canes lost another tough one tonight as they outplayed the Philadelphia Flyers for large chunks of the game, only to come away with another OT loss, 3-2. The team played without forwards Andrew Ladd, Scott Walker, and Erik Cole. You read that right! Of course, Ladd never made the trip because he's suffering from a bad ankle. Walker was injured the previous night in Pittsburgh. Cole was reportedly injured earlier tonight in a pre-game soccer warm up incident. It sounds unbelievable, but it's true. Unfortunately, the injury might be somewhat serious as Cole could be out for at least a week. It's unknown how long Walker and Ladd will be out, so expect some reinforcements from Albany for Monday's game against the Canucks.

After the Flyers jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a Simon Gagne goal, Eric Staal tied it later in the 1st period on a nice feed from Jeff Hamilton. The Canes totally dominated the 2nd period, out-shooting the Flyers 19-5. But Martin Biron was solid in net for the home team, holding the Canes to just one goal, a nifty deflection by Justin Williams. One had to expect that the Flyers would come out with more jump in the 3rd, and they did exactly that. Mike Richards scored a powerplay goal early in the period to tie the score 2-2. John Grahame rose to the occasion and stopped several subsequent decent opportunities. Then Carolina finally got their 2nd wind, (or maybe 3rd wind by that time), and took it to Philly late in the period, causing Jeff Carter to take a penalty for lifting the puck over the glass. One might have thought that the Hockey Gods would finally reward the Canes for their hard work with a winning goal during the 2 minute advantage, but it wasn't meant to be. The game went into OT and Simon Gagne scored his 2nd of the night for the game winner.

This game was similar to last night's game in Pittsburgh in that it seemed to be a game that Carolina played well enough where they should have, or could have won it. These things happen in the NHL though. How many times have we seen other teams play well on the road, only to allow a fluky late goal and come away with nothing? Taking 2 points on the road from 2 quality opponents is nothing to be ashamed about.

The good: The Canes have played very well in stretches now for 5 games in a row. One can't help but think that if they can keep this type of play up consistently, they will certainly win more games than they will lose. I think that the forwards are all playing well. Staal, Williams, Stillman, Whitney, Cullen, Hamilton, Adams, LaRose, Brind'Amour, and Letowski skated their hearts out tonight, on offense and defense. Considering that they were 2 men short and playing with just 3 lines, as well as playing on the 2nd game of a back to back against a fresh team, one has to give them credit. The goaltending has been decent by both Ward and Grahame.

The average: The defense has been up and down the past couple of games. They didn't take as many penalties as they did against the Pens, but they still took a couple. Commodore is still trying to play his way into game shape. Gleason has been outstanding at times, (once diving to deflect a puck away from a wide open Sami Kapanen on a brilliant play), but then he's had some bad turnovers in his own end as well.

The bad: The Hurricanes seem fragile at times to me. Philadelphia manhandled them tonight, appearing to maul them at times. While the Canes tried to negate this affect by utilizing their speed, one can't help but think that this will take a toll on the team in the long run if it continues. If other teams see that they can be successful against the Canes if they are more physical, it might be a problem to watch for in the future. Of course it didn't help that they were missing their 3 most physical forwards, Ladd, Cole, and Walker, and that the refs seemed to allow the slashing, holding, and crosschecking tonight, but I still think that the team could be more physical and dish out more punishment than they do. The Canes certainly need one of those 3 forwards to be in the game and to deliver some timely hits.

The ugly: This team needs to stay healthy, somehow, someway. First Stillman gets hurt in a car accident and now Cole hurts himself kicking around a soccer ball? It's unbelievable. This isn't rocket science, you need your players to stay healthy in order to be successful in this league, period. The game is dangerous enough by itself, (see Scott Walker), you don't need to be hurting yourself off the ice as well. Come on guys! Also, it's time to figure out how to win in OT. The team is now 0-3 so far once the game goes beyond regulation. Although it is early in the year, they need to gain confidence that they can win in those situations.

All in all, it was a very good road trip. (8 points earned out of a possible 12). Points on the road never come easy. These past two games were frustrating, but if the Canes can continue to play as well at home as they did during these past couple of road game losses, their effort should translate into victories.  But I still have a question.... Is this team tough enough? We'll find out soon enough.

Johnny Clegg