In the final RBC Center game before Raleigh hosts this coming weekend's All Star Game festivities, the Carolina Hurricanes treated the fans to a second straight home win by knocking off the Toronto Maple Leafs, 6-4. The win moved the Canes within a point of Atlanta for the eighth place with two games in hand. Here are five observations from Monday's game.
1. The postgame chatter centered on the one-punch knockout Tim Gleason delivered to Nikolai Kulemin at the end of the first period. It started with a scrum after the horn, with Kulemin and Gleason eventually pairing up. The two pushed and shoved, with Gleason delivering a shove and Kulemin answering with two punches to Gleason's face with his gloves on. Gleason had enough, throwing off his gloves, dragging Kulemin away from the fray and KOing him with a punch that bloodied Kulemin. Both players were out for the rest of the game — Kulemin due to injury, Gleason due to a game misconduct.
The officials did what they felt needed to be done: Gleason was tossed for, essentially, hitting Kulemin while the Toronto forward still had his gloves on. But don't be surprised if the NHL sees that as enough of a punishment for Gleason. Frankly, Kulemin should know better than to start an altercation with Gleason, and if he is going to do it, he needs to prepare himself. There were varied opinions out of the Toronto locker room, with several Leafs calling the punch a cheapshot, while Leafs coach Ron Wilson simply deemed it a fight.
Some are suggesting that Gleason should have ID'd Kulemin as a "non-fighter" and not engaged. But in Gleason's defense, punches to the face are punches to the face. As the Toronto Suns' Terry Koshan said in his game notes last night, "If Kulemin is going to play with fire, he should expect to get burned."
2. It's easy to forget Brandon Sutter won't turn 22 until Valentine's Day, so some will see his two goals as an "about time" instead of what it really is: a bonus to everything he does off the scoresheet. With the emergence of Jeff Skinner as a 1B scoring option to Eric Staal, Sutter doesn't need to be a go-to complementary offensive player for coach Paul Maurice. He thrives as one of the game's headiest defensive players and most mature — and not just among 21-year-olds. His plus-12 rating is tops on the team and, for a stat that is often overused, much deserved. He now has nine even-strength goals, which is more than Tuomo Ruutu (six) and Chad LaRose (eight) and ranks fourth on the team, and those are usually scored against the opposition's best. Throw in the fact he tops among Carolina forwards in blocked shots (43), and you can understand why the Canes brass thinks any goals Sutter scores is gravy.
3. For the second straight game, Carolina allowed a shorthanded goal. This time it was Tim Brent, who somehow managed to drop three points on the Canes after registering just seven in the previous 46. But the real story is the Carolina power play at the RBC Center. The 2-for-7 effort with the man advantaged pushed the Hurricanes to 22.1 percent at home on the season, good for sixth in the NHL and second (to Tampa Bay) in the Eastern Conference. Overall, Carolina is still in the middle of the pack (18.5 percent, 13th), but the home ice power play has helped Carolina pile up home wins of late (five of the last six, and eight of the last 12).
4. With his goal Monday, Skinner now has 12 points in his last 10 games and seven goals during that run. There's not much to say about the 18-year-old that hasn't already been said. He's talented, hard-working, good-natured and competitive. Eight of his goals have come in the third period and nine have come with the team trailing or tied. His 30-goal pace would shatter the previous Carolina rookie mark of 20 set by Shane Willis in 2000-01. Simply put, Skinner has moved beyond being the best rookie in Canes history and is among the best ever first-year players in the history of Triangle sports.
5. Jiri Tlusty and Zach Boychuk both made claims to deserving a full-time, top-nine spot Monday. Boychuk had a couple mental errors, but his deflection of Ian White's point shot early in the third period led to Sutter's first goal. The mistakes likely cost him some ice time (he played just 7:08 on the night), but his tip on that play exhibits how good his hands are. As for Tlusty, he was rewarded with a plus-3 night for his efforts against the Leafs. Much like right before he was injured in December, Tlusty's confidence is swelling with each shift. With Patrick Dwyer out, Tlusty served as a serviceable shutdown running mate with Sutter.