A Carolina Hurricanes blog with occasional news about the rest of the NHL.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Canes skid continues -- Leafs 4- Canes 3

On Friday, the Canes extended their losing streak to five games by dropping a 4-3 decision to Chairman Mo and the Leafs. The loss, coupled with other goings-on in the Eastern Conference, pushed the Canes out of the playoff picture. Hopefully, this will come as a big wake-up call. Tonight the Canes will have a chance to snap out of it with a game in the City of Tampa against the slumping Bolts. Both the Canes and the Lightning have a 3-6-1 record in their last 10.

Although the officiating was suspect at times last night, I don't wish to write about how dodgy officiating hurt us. The referees weren't the ones failing to get to loose pucks in the defensive zone. The referees weren't the ones making sloppy line changes. The referees weren't the ones turning the puck over in neutral ice. The refs weren't the ones committing STUPID penalties in the defensive end and selfish ones in the offensive end. The Canes players are guilty of all these things and more. As fun as it is to point fingers and say that the refs "jobbed" us, the fact of the matter is that the Canes didn't play well and they deserved to lose.

Before the game, defenseman Nic Wallin went down with a "lower body injury". The Captain is still out, and in fact unable to practice. The breaking news was that big left wing Andrew Ladd had an emergency appendectomy on Thursday night, and is expected to miss three to four weeks. The Canes were forced to recall Keith Aucoin from the AHL River Rats. Aucoin is a gritty player with a yeoman-like work ethic. He's another Chad LaRose, in more ways than one. He hustles and provides great energy, but he's 5'9" 187lbs. He gives up five inches and fifteen pounds to Ladd, and he's no good on the forecheck. Add him to the list of "water bugs" on the Canes forwards roster. Ray Whitney, Trevor Letowski, Scott Walker, Chad LaRose, and now Keith Aucoin all come in at 5'10" or less and 195lbs or less. Expect the Canes to get pushed around a lot in the coming weeks until we can get some bigger bodies back in the lineup.

At 16:00 of the first, Erik Cole netted an eye-popping goal that appeared to get the Canes off and running. After forcing a turnover in the defensive zone, Cory Stillman banked a long stretch pass off the wall to Cole, hitting the Leafs blue line just as the puck got there. Andrew Raycroft was coming out of net to play the puck and got caught in no-man's land. All alone, Cole drove to the net, hesitated long enough for Raycroft to get going the wrong way, then shoved it in. Stillman got the first assist and Eric Staal got the second.

At 18:02, Mats "Skeletor" Sundin got a semi-break away on a sloppy line change by the Canes. As Mike Commodore and Bret Hedican stood and watched, Sundin streaked in with a pass from Kyle Wellwood, made a little deke move, then pulled the puck to his forehand and easily beat Ward from right out front. Wellwood got the first assist, and Hal Gill got the second.

Midway through the second, the Canes started parading to the penalty box in twos. Glen Wesley for interference, then Anton Babchuk for ANOTHER delay of game (puck in crowd) penalty. Like it or not, this is the rule, and the Canes have got to stop doing that. Three games in a row, and probably 12 times this season. With over a minute of five-on-three time, the Leafs were able to do whatever they wanted, and Skeletor scored again at the 11:57 mark from just below the left circle. Darcy Tucker and Bryan McCabe got the helpers.

A few moments later, Carolina couldn't catch a break, and after Erik Cole was hauled down on a good scoring chance with no penalty, the puck crossed the line after bouncing off a Leafs skate. However, the goal was disallowed because the net had come off the moorings.

After Ray Whitney went for hooking at 16:01, the Canes were doing a good job with the kill until a mysterious interference call against Viva at 17:17 on a clearing attempt. It was hard to tell where the call came from because it was a late call, and seemed to be at the request of Darcy Tucker.

Anyway, the Canes found themselves on the short end of yet another 5-3, and it didn't take long for the visitors to capitalize. McCabe beat Ward at 17:53 with a one-timer from the top of the right circle. Tomas Kaberle and Skeletor got the assists.

Just when things started to look grim, and certain folks decided to bail, it started to look a little better. They looked a bit sharper and more desperate in the third. The Canes had a long five-on-three of their own that they couldn't punctuate, but after the first penalty expired, they still had had some normal power play time to work with, and they didn't waste it. From down in the bottom of the right circle, Eric Staal sent a pass across the goal mouth to Viva at the bottom of the left circle. It was on edge and in his skates, but he found the time to settle it and zip it past Raycroft on the far side at 6:03 of the third to make it 3-2. Cory "Steel Toed Boots" Stillman got the second assist.

At 10:58, Mike Commodore got a game-tying goal on a rebound. Scott Walker skated behind the net, faked a wrap-around, then came back to the left post for a stuff attempt that was blocked. The rebound went into the low slot where Commodore found it and sent it past Raycroft. It was great work by Walker, taking it the length of the ice, attempting the good shot, then staying in the crease area to screen the goaltender. Eric Belanger got the secondary assist.

Alex Steen had been denied a few times and clanged one off the post just before Commodore's goal, but he found the net at 14:00 for the game winner. Kaberle took a big shot from the left point, Cam gave a big rebound into the slot, and Steen finished it from there. McCabe had the second assist.

Later in the period, Carolina started to show some signs of life, but they took a stupid too many men penalty, which pretty much quashed all hopes. Later, with Cam Ward pulled for an extra attacker, there was an apparent trip that would have put the Canes on the power play, but Erik Cole was whistled for interference on the same play. No empty net goals, and the game ended 4-3.

Thus far in December, the Canes are 1-3-1, and have looked horrible. Of course they have been bitten very hard by the injury bug, but they're going to need to "man up" if they want to make the playoffs at all. The road is going to be fraught with peril and obstacles, but if they can stay the course, fate will vouchsafe their reward.

Although Brind'Amour is out indefinitely, and Ladd is out for at least three weeks, and Frantisek Kaberle is still a few weeks away, the Canes are thrilled to have Cory Stillman back. In two games this season, he's got three assists.

For once, the "official" three stars and the RBH three stars are the same:
Third Star Cory Stillman, CAR -- 2 assists
Second Star Bryan McCabe, TOR -- 1 goal, 2 assists
First Star Mats Sundin, TOR -- 2 goals, 1 assist

Tonight at the Tampa-St. Pete Times Forum, the Canes will try to get back on the right foot. With all those injuries, and the back-to-back, it's not going to be easy. This will have to be one of those "gut check" games. I'm hoping for a big night from Scott Walker and Cory Stillman. I'll expect nothing. If I were a betting man, I'd bet against the Canes.

Puck drop is 7:30.

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