On Sunday, Carolina defeated the Caps in overtime 4-3. Carolina played some of their stars. Washington did not. For about 48 minutes, Carolina looked pretty lethargic. Even bad. Somehow, they pulled it together down the stretch, and the end result, even though it doesn't count, was a win.
First off, my new seat offers a good view, but it's way further up than I'm accustomed to. Yes, I'm spoiled. I spent the last season in the third row, sitting close enough to smell the players' breath. The previous two, a spent sitting close enough to at least see their eyes. I'm still in the lower bowl, and I can't complain about that, but I will no longer be able to provide decent photography. And I will no longer be able to harangue the visiting goaltender with any chance of him hearing me.
The Hurricanes dressed nine regulars. Five forwards (Cole, Staal, Stillman, Viva and Letowski), three defensemen (Commodore, Seidenberg and Gleason) and Johnny Crackers. The Caps did not dress any of their top line (Ovechkin, Semin, Nylander). Still, their "b team" looked ready to play.
Seeing the sweaters in action, I liked them quite a bit. The form-fitting business will take some getting used to, but overall I think they look sharp. I tried one on in the souvenir shop, and I like the feel. A lot. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to be able to plop down the $190 it would take to get one with a player name/number plus the commemorative patch. When the time comes, I'll get a "road" white one. Probably a WHITNEY 13. Part of me wants to just wait for next season's third sweater (black with the "storm warning" logo on the chest).
The boys took a while to get things going, but when the Caps put their reserve backup in, the Canes had a better time. Johnson was good, as he always is against the Canes. With the Canes down by two, they scored two quick goals to knot it up midway through the third.
My notes were crap, but the Canes scoring was thus:
In the waning seconds of a power play, Noah Babin became the first native Floridian to score an NHL goal. It came at 7:46 of the third with helpers from Staal and Stillman. The "official scoresheet" lists this as an even strength goal, but it was most certainly a power play.
Just 49 seconds later, Erik Cole made a textbook Erik Cole maneuver to tie it at the 8:35 mark. Again, the Canes were on a power play, after the Caps were whistled for delay of game (clearing the puck over the glass). Cole took a pass from Staal, broke in on net, sweeping through the low slot. As he moved from left to right across the goal mouth, he pulled it to his backhand at the very last second and easily beat Michal Neuvirth.
Michael Leighton, who once fought Cam Ward as part of an epic bench clearing brawl in an AHL game, was quite good between the pipes. He made a couple of dazzling saves down the stretch including a sprawling save that was kind of reminiscent of Ward's save on Raffi Torres with about six minutes to play in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. Obviously, the stakes weren't as high, but it was a nifty save.
However, at 17:57 of the third, Ben Clymer tipped one passed Leighton to give the Caps a late lead. On the play, I felt like Brandon Sutter could have cleared either the puck or the player out of the goal mouth area, but he just watched as the goal was scored.
As I was sharply criticizing Peter Laviolette for not pulling the keeper for a sixth attacker, the Canes mounted some late pressure deep in the Caps zone. I continued to implore the coach to pull Leighton, but it all became immaterial when my boy Viva scored a very easy goal at 19:00. Neuvirth had practically taken himself out of the play by falling down, and Ryan Bayda had the puck at the bottom of the right circle. He patiently held the puck, then dished it to Williams on the left side. As Neuvirth was down and out, overcommitted to the right side, all Viva had to do was tap it into the yawning net. Like the last game of the 06-07 season, the game would go to overtime.
Like the last game of the 06-07 season, the Canes would be the benefactor of two quick penalties, which gave the Canes a rare overtime five-on-three. In overtime, both teams play with four skaters, and penalties are served as normal. With a second penalty against the same team, though, the non-offending team gets to bring an extra skater on the ice rather than going to a four-on-two situation. The Canes dawdled a bit, but they eventually took care of business. Erik Cole got the game winner at 4:12 of the extra frame. Eric Staal fired a shot from the right circle that Cole deflected in from the goal-mouth area.
Carolina will travel to Nashville for a Friday exhibition. Between now and then, they will play some Red-White scrimmages on Tuesday and Wednesday. There is an outside chance that I'll head out there on Tuesday. On Friday, there will be a different group of players on the ice from what we saw today.
*Staal looked a bit "off" at first, but came on strong in the third, putting up three assists.
*Erik Cole looked pretty sharp. His first goal was a thing of beauty, and the second was just a right place, right time kind of thing, but he still looked good. I liked the way he responded after he boarded a Caps player. The player went down awkwardly, and Cole immediately turned all of his attention to the health of the player. Fortunately, the player was uninjured, but Cole (who, of course, knows a little something about being boarded)showed class and sportsmanship.
*Brandon Sutter was a non-factor. So much of a non-factor that the official "event summary" lists him as "14 Chad LaRose".
*Wade Brookbank made a couple of sound defensive plays
*Patrick Dwyer is throwing me off. He won't make the opening night roster, so it won't be a big deal, but he's wearing the #39 sweater, and I kept wanting to shout out "C'mon, Dougie!"
*Johnny Crackers wasn't all that good. The first goal was cheap, and I thought (contrary to what Luke says) that he looked bad trying to handle the puck. It makes me nervous as all get-out to see him play the puck as much as he does, and to see him come as far out of the crease as he does, and to try the homerun pass as frequently as he does. There were no Conklin-esque catastrophic mistakes, but I just don't think he's a smooth puckhandler and it makes me nervous.
Most importantly, today felt great. It felt great to go through all my game-night rituals. It felt great to see my hockey friends who I haven't seen in five months. It felt great to be in the building. It felt great to see the new sweaters. It felt good to feel the crisp air. It felt good to see the boys win. It feels good to know that the "real" games are just around the corner.
3 years ago