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Game Analysis: Hurricanes Pile On Struggling Maple Leafs

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For the first time this season the Carolina Hurricanes have won back-to-back road games. The Canes easily handled the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday, winning 4-1 in their final game before this weekend’s All Star festivities.

Captains Eric Staal and Dion Phaneuf fought Monday following the Toronto captain’s hit on Jordan Staal.
Captains Eric Staal and Dion Phaneuf fought Monday following the Toronto captain’s hit on Jordan Staal.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Staal scored twice and Anton Khudobin put in another stellar performance to lead Carolina to a 4-1 win Monday at Toronto.

Three Observations

1. Was Dion Phaneuf’s hit on Jordan Staal a bad hit? That depends on what we're calling "bad." Was it illegal? Probably not — there was a blindside aspect to it, but there wasn't contact with the head. But the question of whether or not it was a responsible hit is definitely in play. In a time when many speak of a lack of respect from the health of fellow players, a hit like Phaneuf’s got the correct response from Jordan’s teammate (and brother) Eric Staal. I would say Eric’s decision to rip a slapshot past — or at — Phaneuf for the empty-netter was no more "dirty" that Phaneuf’s hit. Both were completing a play in the game, but maybe took it a bit far.

2. Carolina’s fourth line continues to set a tone each night. They frequently grind out shifts, and they are now being rewarded with points on the score sheet. In the past four games, Jay McClement has three assists, Patrick Dwyer has a goal and two assists, and Brad Malone — who was a healthy scratch against Vancouver — has goals in his past two and an assist the game before. Malone now has five points (including three goals) in his past eight appearances after not even being on the ice for a Hurricanes goal in his first 27 games with Carolina.

3. Elias Lindholm used his speed to his advantage Monday. First, he drew the game’ first penalty by blowing past Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner. Then shortly after the penalty expired, Lindholm took a deflected pass in the defensive zone and raced down the ice — pulling away from the speedy Morgan Rielly — for his ninth goal of the season. Lindholm continues to show off different aspects of his game each night. Once he pulls them all together, Carolina will have an All Star-worthy player on their hands.

Number To Know

5 — Years since Staal took over as Carolina’s captain. On Jan. 20, 2010, Rod Brind`Amour — now a Carolina assistant coach — turned over the team captaincy to Staal. On the eve of his milestone, Staal showed perhaps the most fire he has in his half decade with the Hurricanes "C" on his sweater. Staal not only notched two goals, but he engaged Phaneuf in a fight following the Toronto defenseman’s hit on Jordan Staal. It was a rare captain-on-captain tilt, and even rarer fight for Staal. It was Staal’s second career fight and first since he took over the captaincy. The other was in Carolina’s Stanley Cup-winning season, when Staal fought Washington’s Jeff Halpern on April 3, 2006. The significance of that fight? Halpern fought again that game, this time against recent trade acquisition Doug Weight. The Weight-Halpern scrap served to fully weave Weight into the team’s fabric in the eyes of both his teammates and Carolina fans, and it helped set the tone for what turned out to be an historic run to the Stanley Cup.

Plus

Anton Khudobin — The Hurricanes are back to square one with their goaltending situation, and that's probably a good thing. With Cam Ward slipping a little of late (12 goals allowed in his last four starts), Carolina is reacquainting itself with Khudobin. Khudobin has now won five straight starts to improve his record to 5-8-2. It was Khudobin who was the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 goalie heading into training camp, but a sub-par preseason and a rejuventated Ward relegated Khudobin to backup status until recently. Now, Khudobin has seemingly seized the reins of the No. 1 job and is running with it.

Minus

Jeff Skinner — There wasn't much to dislike about Monday’s win, but Skinner is still struggling to create chances and having issues in the defensive zone. Skinner is mired in a four-game point drought and has only 19 points in 41 games. Plainly put, the Hurricanes need more out of No. 53.