The Carolina Hurricanes capped off their seven-game international trek with a win over Phoenix, 4-3 in overtime. That matches Carolina's record, which stands as one of the league's most impressive given the Canes’ travels and the quality opponents they faced since opening the season Oct. 7 in Helsinki against the Wild.
On the average night, blowing a three-goal, third-period lead would infuriate a head coach. But Paul Maurice couldn't help but admire his team's resolve in recovering to win in overtime. Here are five observations from Saturday's win.
1. Even before scoring the game’s third goal on a shot in the slot, Sergei Samsonov looked like one of Carolina’s best skaters on the night. The veteran winger was strong on the puck, avoided overskating when in possession, and won several battles along the boards. He now has two goals in just 37:21 of ice time this season. That's the least amount of ice time of any player who has dressed for Carolina this year, but only Eric Staal has more goals (three).
2. Anton Babchuk's game-winning tally in overtime game was courtesy a beautiful pass from Joni Pitkanen. While the play will probably be best remembered for Pitkanen's pass, it is Babchuk's offensive versatility that is worth noting. The 6-5 Ukranian is best known for his booming slapshot, but is never given enough credit for his timely pinching in the offensive zone. Not many would have predicted that Babchuk's first two goals of the year would come with 10 feet of the net, but that's what happened. He showed off his underrated hands in finishing off Pitkanen’s picture-perfect pass, but remains a threat when anchored at the blue line in the offensive zone.
3. Chad LaRose has had a solid start to his season, but if for whatever reason the Hurricanes don't retain No. 59 when his contract expires after this season, Patrick Dwyer seems like a reasonable long-term replacement. And it's not just that Dwyer scored his first career shorthanded goal — he can always be counted on as a reliable penalty killer and is an all-out hustle player. He doesn't make many mistakes, stays out of the penalty box and always gives an honest effort.
4. Jay Harrison held his own against pugilist Paul Bissonnette — a more skilled fighter and, presumably, better tweeter — but the decision to accept Biz Nasty's invitation to brawl was a curious one. The Canes had just moved ahead 3-0 in the second period and Carolina had little to gain with the momentum already clearly in their favor. That being said, Maurice would surely rather see his No. 6 defenseman fight Bissonnette than the guy who wears No. 6.
5. Maurice was a bit of a mad scientist through the first seven games, trying about half of his forwards at center at one point or another. But for all the line mixing (both on offense and with the defense pairings), power play struggles and near-collapses, the Canes walked away with a 4-3 record. Some would say they did it in spite of Maurice, but his handling of a young team with obvious holes and early season chemistry struggles shouldn't go unnoticed. He still has problems to fix — a long-term solution at third-line center, troubles in the faceoff circle, ill-timed defensive-zone turnovers — but any coach that can take his team halfway around the world, back, and then practically to the edge of the other half, and return with a winning record deserves a round of applause.