The Caniac Nation left the RBC happy last night for the first time in awhile. The crowd woke up, the team finally scored more than two goals, and the Hurricanes defeated the Capitals, 3-1.
Ray Whitney opened the scoring in the first period as he tucked a Joni Pitkanen rebound around Jose Theodore and for the first time in 13 games the Hurricanes scored the opening tally.
The second period was scoreless, primarily because of the Hurricanes ability to kill penalties and also because of Michael Leighton's gutsy performance. With just a second or so left in the period, Alex Ovechkin broke into the clear while the Canes were on the powerplay. Joni Pitkanen tried his best to catch the speedster, but ended up hooking the Russian dynamo before he could get a shot off.
A penalty shot was called and most fans in the arena got on their feet and started booing. Leighton was equal to the task though as he patiently waited Ovechkin out and did not fall for any fakes. He was then able to extend his leg pad out to stop the shot at the last moment.
Surprisingly enough, Ovechkin is 0-5 on penalty shots in his career.
About mid-way through the third period on yet another powerplay, Washington finally scored on nice passing and a nicer shot by Nicklas Backstrom.
Both teams battled hard but with about four minutes left in the contest, Eric Staal somehow forced the puck past Theodore just inside the post for the eventual game-winner. A couple of minutes later, Ray Whitney added an insurance goal after finding the puck during a scrum in front of the Washington net.
The win put an end to a five game losing streak at home for Carolina, but more importantly kept the Canes within shouting distance, (4 points), of the Caps in the division race.
While the attendance was disappointing Saturday night, there was a pretty good sized crowd for a Sunday, (15,308).
Michael Leighton looked more like his usual self in net. He made 38 saves on 39 shots and was solid and confident, much more so than in his previous two contests.
Anton Babchuk left the game with an apparent arm/hand injury. He had it in a sling after the game. No word yet about the details. Paul Maurice said after the game that "the most dangerous job in America was playing defense for the Carolina Hurricanes".
You could tell that Tim Conboy was itching to go with Donald Brashear. Both players were giving each other shots whenever they had the chance. There was no way that Conboy could drop the gloves and put his team at a disadvantage though, especially with Babchuk out. The defense was short-handed enough, they would be really hard-pressed to compete with him in the box for at least 5 minutes.
Brett Carson had a debut to remember. Not only did he play a remarkably high 22 minutes, they were important minutes. He was relied upon to kill penalties and was even on the ice doing the job while the team killed a 5-on-3 advantage.
If the refereeing seemed a bit more uneven than usual, it's no surprise. Brad Watson was one of the officials and as we have mentioned several times on this blog, he repeatedly seems to figure out a way to be unequitable in his decison making when the Canes are involved. He called ridiculous diving penalties against the Canes in Florida, messed up a game in Washington last year, made questionable calls in a game earlier this year, and certainly turned a blind eye to a couple of infractions last night. The guy is an absolute joke.
The fourth line is suffering for lack of playing time under Maurice's tenure so far. While Laviolette would only play Brookbank a couple of minutes a game, he would double shift centers and give the other guys on the line some more time, as well as use them on the PK. For good or bad, Maurice is not mixing the lines up. Since the coaching change, Chad Larose has gotten much less playing time as has Brandon Sutter. One of the beefs against the coach in the past has been that he does not give younger players the chance to develop. Sutter needs to get some ice time if he is to improve, plus he has been one of the highlights this year. (He played 8 minutes Saturday and 8 minutes last night. He had been averaging in the double digits). We will keep monitoring this.
While LaRose's time is going down, Patrick Eaves' time has gone up. He's been moved to the Brind'Amour line and has done a very good job elevating his physical play, now if he can just put a puck in the net. He has yet to score a single goal this season.
Obviously, the defensive play in the neutral zone and defensive zone has been top-notch since the coaching change. There have been rare odd-man rushes. The Carolina goalies will love this new system, even if the forwards do not.
Rod Brind'Amour was +2 for the night and won 80% of his faceoffs, (16-20). He led all forwards with 20 minutes of ice time while Pitkanen led the defensemen with 26 minutes.
For two teams who had played the previous night, the energy and hitting was decent. The Canes were credited with 29 hits while the Caps had 28.
The Hurricanes have a break in the schedule and do not play again until Thursday night in Philadelphia. That's right, the Flyers again.