If the Capitals and Islanders, two teams Carolina easily dispatched over the weekend, think they're Stanley Cup contenders, they should each take a long look at Monday’s Carolina-Chicago game. The Blackhawks, one of the better teams in the superior Western Conference, pushed down the pedal and never let up on the Canes, coasting to a 5-2 win at United Center.
1. How does a team avoid a 5-2 beat down to a top-flight team? For one, you finish your chances. Carolina had several Grade-A opportunities from the slot Monday and simply missed the net. Jordan Staal and Brad Malone each had great chances, and Justin Faulk’s point shot on the first period 5-on-3 power play sailed high.
2. Which brings us to that two-man advantage. Down 2-0 early in the second period after Jonathan Toews scored shorthanded for his second goal of the night, Carolina was given an opportunity when Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa each took penalties less than a minute apart. But Carolina failed to even register a shot on goal during the 5 on 3 and before the period was out the Blackhawks had doubled their lead to 4-0.
3. And finally, you need to win the goaltending battle. Corey Crawford made the big saves for Chicago throughout the game, while Cam Ward — though victimized by defensive breakdowns — couldn't make a stop on either of Toews’ breakaways and struggled with his glove hand and five hole throughout the night. Anton Khudobin played the third, but by then the end result was all but written in stone.
Number To Know
6 — Consecutive games without allowing a power play goal for the Hurricanes, who didn't take a penalty Monday. Carolina has allowed just three power play plays in the past 29 games and has killed off 12 consecutive opportunities. At 88.2 percent, Carolina’s penalty kill ranks first in the NHL and the team’s combined special teams conversion rate of 106.8 percent (18.6 percent on the power play) is tied for second in the NHL with Pittsburgh (21.3% PP, 85.3% PK) through Monday’s games. Detroit leads the league at 107.9 percent thanks to its league-best 25 percent power play.
John-Michael Liles — Liles got Carolina on the board by jumping into an odd-man rush early in the third period and finishing off an Andrej Nestrasil pass. But he was also leaned on to help Carolina’s bottom two defenseman, Michal Jordan and Jack Hillen, survive a rough night. With Jordan and Hillen struggling together, the Hurricanes shuffled their D pairings and teamed Liles with Jordan, Hillen with Justin Faulk, and Brett Bellemore — who played the first two period Liles — with last year’s partner Ron Hainsey. The results were encouraging, with Carolina playing their best period in the final frame.
Jordan Staal — Staal let Toews sneak by for the game’s opening goal and on the whole didn't have an answer for Chicago’s top line. It was a rare off night for Carolina’s No. 1 center, who has been the catalyst for the Hurricanes’ improved performance since he returned. We'll rack it up to a top-notch opponent catching Staal on his third game in four nights.