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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Leafs pound Canes

Toronto Maple Leafs --- 4,275,634
Carolina Sons of Motherless Whores --- 1

(tip of the hat to the boys at CinO)

On Tuesday night, Carolina had a chance to strengthen their tenuous hold on the sixth playoff spot in the East with a home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto is a team on the outside looking in, desperate for a chance to return to the playoffs. Carolina is a team limping through the race as they approach the quarter pole. They will should be at full health heading down the homestretch and won't have any excuses if they can't finish in the top eight.

"Ole One Eye", aka Chairman Mo, aka "Paul Maurice" came back into town with the much maligned duo of Jeff "Public Urination" O'Neill and Bates "Manwhore" Battaglia and shut the home crowd up with a very impressive first period. Although the score was knotted at one after 20 minutes, Toronto was by far the better team. They outshot Carolina 14-4, dominated puck possession and puck position, outhit, out-hustled and just plain outplayed Carolina. They were roaring out of the gates with seven SOG in the first three and a half minutes played. In that same amount of time, Carolina's defensemen couldn't even keep their equipment in order. Dennis Seidenberg broke two sticks in the first three minutes of play. This, naturally, made things much more difficult for Cam Ward.

Bates Battaglia scored the game's first goal at 14:00 by tucking in a rebound of a John Pohl shot. Ward made the stop and there was a short rebound off to his left. Unfortunately, Batesy was there all alone on the right post to tuck it in for the easy goal. Ian White got the secondary assist.

Ray Whitney answered back at 16:06 to tie it up on a garbage goal. Dennis Seidenberg made a beautiful home run pass to Whitney from his own end to the Toronto blue line. Whitney went in all alone and Andrew Raycroft stopped his point blank attempt, but the puck trickled through Raycroft's equipment and over the goal line. Rod Brind'Amour picked up the secondary helper.

There was no scoring in the second period.

Nic Antropov gave the Leafs the lead they would never surrender at 0:37 of the third. It was just about a carbon copy of the Battaglia goal. Mats Sundin and Tomas Kaberle got the helpers.

There was a lot of action, and some chippiness in the next ten minutes, but nothing happened until Antropov scored again at 16:20. He wrapped around the back of the goal and lifted it top shelf from over near the right post. Same positioning as the first two goals. Bryan McCabe got the only assist.

The Canes were early to pull the goalie with about 2:30 to play, and with six forwards on the ice, they couldn't accomplish anything. Scott Walker did a nice job of saving an empty net bid, but before it was all said and done, Tomas Kaberle got to the vacated cage. One of those "who wants it" plays. Three Leafs came into the Carolina zone all alone. A couple of passes later, Kaberle buried it from the right circle. Chad Kilger and Battaglia got the assists.

During the first period, Eric Belanger was awarded a penalty shot on what I thought was a questionable call. It was no matter because he couldn't convert the shot. He drifted in to the left of Raycroft, hesitated too much and didn't score.

There was absolutely nothing redeeming about this game. Nothing. They looked awful. They deserved to lose. They looked like a team that will play themselves out of a playoff position, or one who will get demolished in the first round.

There was, actually, one redeeming thing. In a very silly way. There's a woman in my section on whom I have a perma-crush (for about three seasons now). I've never actually spoken to her, but always thought she's hot. I haven't seen her much this season, and even if I don't talk to her, it's still fun to look at pretty women, and it always cheers me up to see this one.

Anyway, the Canes will be back in action at home on Thursday night against the Bolts and again on Saturday at home against the Bruins. I would say that the Canes will have to win both of those games.

The way the "official" three stars went was:
Andrew Raycroft (third), Ray Whitney (second) and Nic Antropov (first).

Almost, but I just can't justify giving the Canes anything. The RBH Three Stars of the Game:
Third Star Andrew Raycroft, TOR -- 28 saves, win
Second Star Tomas Kaberle, TOR -- 1 goal, 1 assist, 3 takeaways
First Star Nic Antropov, TOR -- 2 goals (GWG)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Canes split home-and-home; Scrabble tourney a bust

On Friday night, the Canes won the front end of a home-and-home with the Caps. In rather decisive fashion. Viva led the way with two goals and an assist in a 6-2 rout of the visitors.
However, the tables turned the next night when the Caps beat the Canes in decisive fashion in the MCIVerizon Center. On Saturday night, Alexander Semin led the way for the Caps with two goals in a 7-3 romp. Viva added another goal to his total, giving him 26 on the season.

The Canes will take on the Leafs tomorrow night in the RBC Center.

I didn't watch any of that action because of my Scrabble tournament. I went into the tourney as the #1 seed in the lowest division and a good chance to take home as much as $700 cash money. I had the option of "playing up" into the next division where I wouldn't have a chance of winning prize money, but would be able to improve my rating if I won a few games. Instead I opted for the chance to make the dough.
I made the wrong choice.

One of the perils of playing in the low division is that you know absolutely nothing about the newcomers. A player with no rating and no history is a wildcard. Usually, you can bet that they're going to be mediocre at best, and once in a while there's a rock star who just happens to be playing in his first tournament. In this tournament, there were THREE of those "rockstar" types. I played all three and lost to all three. One player was way out of my league and he ended up killing the rest of the field for a 13-1 record and a point spread of +1700. The others were good players who I might beat half of the time. I didn't.

After the first day, I was 2-1 looking decent with a +200 spread. After the first half of day two, I was 5-2 with a spread of +400. Still okay. After that, though, it all went downhill. I lost to a much improved player who I have beaten with ease before. I lost to one opponent twice, including a savage beating in the final game where I lost by more than 200 points.

I had one other loss to another newcomer who had a very good game that time. We played four other times "for fun" during off-hours and I beat her each time.

I ended with a 7-7 record and a cumulative point spread of -52. Sucks. Instead of winning some jingle, my rating is going to be in the can, and I won't be able to get out of this low division for some time.

Two good things happened. At the very last second, someone with a rating of 899 jumped in, knocking me from the #1 seed to #2. I played him and beat him, which might be a saving grace for my rating.

The other is that during one of those "off hours" games, one of the players in the top division came by, observing our game. It was kinda weird because he would stand behind me, then behind my opponent, occasionally muttering "You missed a bingo". He complimented my play a few times and was especially congratulatory when I found

hooking the E to the end of something already on the board. He said "Beautiful, beautiful play. Pretty as a picture!" For the record, there's only one other seven letter word in that group of letters, and it's
My play was for more points, and honestly, it was the only one of the two that I could remember. It wasn't my highest scoring play of the weekend, but it was probably the prettiest, and by far the most uncommon.

Don't ask me what it means. I don't know. I know only that it can take an A on the front and/or an S on the back. I was just happy that I could remember it from my studies and that a very highly rated player saw it and was impressed by it.

Anyway, I haven't even looked at the DVRs of the hockey games, and I might not ever get a chance to. I'm back in the real world now.

My hockey life resumes Tuesday night with the aforementioned home game against the Leafs

Friday, January 26, 2007

Canes to face Caps in home-and-home

For the next two nights, the Canes will be playing division rival Washington. This is Carolina's twelfth back-to-back, and this time neither team will have any advantage as they are playing each other and traveling the same.

Tonight's game is in my ticket package, but I'm deferring the ticket for a different one later. I won't be at the game and I won't be able to write about either Friday's or Saturday's game. At some point in the future, I might try to catch up on these, but I'm busy this weekend.

I'll be down in Charlotte playing in a Scrabble tournament. Barring some strange events, I should emerge from that tournament with some prize money, and there's a very good chance that I could make a few hundred dollars. As much as I like watching the Caps eight times in one season, it's a no-brain decision to go for the prize money. Again, if things go the way they should, I will be able to improve my national ranking and move into a higher division. The only trouble is, if I falter, even a little, my rating will take a savage beating.

Not that any of you care, but the way these tournaments are played is similar to the way chess tournaments are played. The players are paired into skill divisions, and then into smaller groups. At first the small groups play round robin, then you move on to a modified "swiss pairing" style tournament. No elimination. Everyone plays all games. In this case, it's 14 games. After the first three games, you're only playing against players who are doing as well (or as poorly) as you. It's constantly a power-power matchup rather than the power-protect matchup common in sports tournaments.

Anyway, I'm off, and I won't be back until Sunday night. I'll maybe have a chance to watch Saturday's game, but tonight I won't be done until about 11:00pm.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Carolina loses another division game

On Saturday night, the Canes fell to the visiting Bolts. It was a good opportunity to keep pace with first place Atlanta and also to distance themselves from the outside looking in pack. They had every opportunity to win it, but in the end, they couldn't.

In the first period, they looked better than they have in a first period for quite some time. Instead of coming out flat-footed, they were very active, amassing 9 shots in the first 8 minutes of the game. They also kept play down in the Tampa end, which was a welcome change.

Eric Staal, who will be wearing #21 for the All-Star game, got the Canes off and running at the 5:32 mark with a power play marker. An Andrew Hutchinson blast from the blueline was handled by Marc Denis, but the rebound went to the doorstep, where Scott Walker and Staal were waiting. Walker had a whack or two at it, then Staal tucked it in from just off the left post. Officially, Staal from Walker and Hutchinson.

Vaclav Prospal, who I refuse to call "Vinny" scored a garbage goal at 6:51. Cam Ward overplayed a wrap chance by Marty St. Louis, and Prospal threw one in under Cam's pads. It should have been a really easy stop, but this has been Ward's MO this season. Officially, Prospal from St. Louis and Danny Boyle.

Staalsy made it 2-1 at 18:23 when he wristed one through a forest of Lightning legs from the low slot. I don't suppose Denis ever saw it, as two of his own players were screening him out. Officially, Staal from Scott Walker and Anton Babchuk.

The second period was action-packed and there were no penalties called. As a matter of fact, there were only a grand total of four penalties in this game. Two by the Bolts in the first period, one by the Canes in the first period. None in the second, none in the third. One by the Lightning in the overtime session, but it was not to the Hurricanes avail.

Ray Whitney gave the Canes a two goal cushion at 0:34. Dennis Seidenberg fired a wrister from the left point that was deflected in the low slot by Whitney, then perhaps off a d-man before going in the net. It's Whitney's 19th, and the assists were from Seidenberg and Viva.

At 3:22, Martin St. Louis showed why he strikes fear into any opposing team whenever he's on the ice. He didn't score, but he beautifully set up The Horseman at 3:22. Marty made a really fancy move as he crossed Carolina's blue line, drawing a double team from Mike Commodore and Seidenberg. Instead of firing a shot, he dropped a pass to the trailing LaCavalier, who wristed it by Ward. At the time, all I could say to my seat neighbors was "Wow. What a move." It was LaCavalier's 30th, from St.Louis and Paul Ranger.

Andrew Ladd gave the Canes a two-goal cushion again at 7:35. Anton Babchuk uncorked one of his patented heavy shots from the right point, and Ladd had his stick in the right place to re-direct it in the net from the slot. The impact of the shot shattered Ladd's stick, and he looked a little confused, but the goal's good. That's just his fourth goal of the season, and the helpers came from Babchuk and Viva.

Before the PA announcement could be made, Paul Ranger made it 4-3. From the left circle, he beat Cam Ward high on the glove side pretty badly. Ward had a clean look, but couldn't do anything about it. Nikita Alexeev and Eric Perrin assisted.

Then, it was clear that the wheels were falling off. Marty St. Louis tied it at the 12:02 mark. He was all alone on the doorstep, and was able to knock in the rebound from a Vaclav Prospal shot. Doug Janek got the other assist.

At 9:31 of the third, the Canes scored a goal that was very confusing. There was a bevy of humanity in front of the net when Scott Walker wristed a shot from above the left circle. As soon as the light came on, the jumbotron flashed the "It's STAAL good!" message that's always flashed when Eric Staal scores. It was only up there for a second, and I was pretty sure that it wasn't Staal, but it was hard to tell. After a few seconds of hesitation, a few dozen hats were thrown on the ice. However, the goal would be given to Andrew Ladd. The hockey gods chortled, and would ultimately punish the Canes for the false alarm hat trick celebration.

After the game, the scoring was changed again, and credit was given to Scott Walker. The deflection must have been off a Lightning stick. Officially, it's Scott Walker (his 16th) from Andrew Hutchinson and Andrew Ladd. There's been a bunch of plays where two Eric/ks tally points, but this is the first to my recollection where the two Andrews were involved.

It looked good heading down the stretch, and I was thinking that Staalsy would still get a chance for the hat trick if the Bolts pulled their keeper late. It never got to that. Filip Kuba tied it at 5 with less than three minutes to play. It was a bad, bad goal that Ward should have absolutely stopped. He fired a shot from the left circle with nobody in front, giving Ward a clean look. It beat him five hole. Prospal and Janek got the assists.

In the overtime period, the Canes had a great chance when Nolan Pratt took a delay of game (puck in crowd) penalty, but they couldn't convert the 4-on-3 chance. I knew going into the shootout that it was over. With our dismal failure at shootout this year, and the snipers on the Bolts bench, we didn't stand a chance.

Actually, Ward gave us a chance, stopping LaCavalier, Brad Richards and St. Louis. He couldn't stop Prospal, though, and none of Carolina's shooters could get the job done. Prospal's shootout goal won it, but he won't officially get credit for a GWG. I still think that's a disgrace.

I disagreed wholly with the three stars awarded in the arena, which were also the "official" three stars. They were: Martin St. Louis (third), Eric Staal (second) and Andrew Ladd (first). Of course that was all done when we thought that Ladd had two goals, but I never saw it that way anyway. Ladd/Walker scoring change doesn't effect my stars.

The RBH three stars:
Third Star Scott Walker, CAR -- 3 assists1 goal, 2 assists
Second Star Eric Staal, CAR -- 2 goals
First Star Vaclav Prospal, TBL -- 1 goal, 2 assists, shootout goal (winner)

The entire league will be off until Thursday to pause for the All-Star game. The Youngstars game and skills competition will be Tuesday night and the Allstar game will be on Wednesday night. All the coverage will be on Outdoor Life OLN Versus.

Staal to wear #21 in Dallas

For the All-Star game in Dallas on Wednesday night, Eric Staal will be wearing the number 21. I haven't seen the complete numerical roster, but apparently, he's deferring his customary number 12 to Simon Gagne, who is playing in his second All-Star game and is more veteran than Staal.

Viva will still be wearing his customary 11.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The RBH "Buy me a beer" challenge

I've seen other blogs doing this, and I guess I'll go ahead and join in.

From now until I say otherwise, the RBH "Buy me a beer" challenge will be in effect.

Here's how it works:

You walk up to me and say "Hey, D-Lee, can I buy you a beer?"
At which point I will say "Nope. How 'bout I buy you one instead"

Get it? Free beer for you if you come talk to me. I wear a Justin Williams sweater and I usually hang out at The Deck during intermissions.

Limit one beer per contestant, and if I have ever been to your house, you are ineligible.

Carolina to get back on right foot tonight

Carolina played a bad game on Thursday night. Very bad. For forty minutes, they were outshot, outhit, outhustled, outworked and just outplayed by a team they should be able to beat.
Blame bad bounces if you want, but the Canes were bad. In the first period, there were three examples of bad play in goal situations that is not characteristic of a championship team.

Washington's first goal was an own-goal by David Tanabe. Oddly enough, though, I can't blame him. The Caps were about to dump it in, and Crackers went to the corner to be where he anticipated the puck would be. Snuggles redirected the puck out of midair at center ice, and it went directly into the vacant net. There was no need for Grahame to leave the net that early, and even if the puck had gone where he anticipated, he would have been way too far out of net for comfort. A poor choice by him, followed by a bad bounce.

Later, Dennis Seidenberg had a wraparound chance, and would have easily beaten Kolzig, but he got too anxious and stuffed it against the right post.

Still later, Eric Belanger came in on a shorthanded breakaway against Kolzig, but hesitated too long, then whiffed on a last-second attempt. It was all him from the red line in, and he couldn't even get a shot off.

The rest of the first two periods was characterized by a failure to get to loose pucks, a complete absence of forechecking, and the Caps asserting themselves in the Carolina end.

After the game, Coach Laviolette had a very terse press conference and has since said that the game was "terrible". He didn't quite go all Chairman Mo on them yesterday, but they had a very thorough workout with a LOT of skating, puck pursuit and net crashing drills. None of that was present in Thursday's game.

I would imagine that the boys will bounce back tonight when they face the Bolts, who are on the outside looking in. The coach is mad, the players are embarrassed, and they will have to redeem themselves.

The Thrashers also lost on Thursday, so although they couldn't help their own cause, at least they didn't slip any. Atlanta will play the Rangers this afternoon at MSG.

Puck drop in Raleigh tonight will be at the unusual time of 8:30. This is to accommodate an afternoon basketball game at the RBC Center. No television.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Canes hope to be healthier heading down the homestretch.

Last season, the Hurricanes were beset with injuries during the regular season to the tune of something like 260 man games lost. They were lucky to be healthy during the playoffs, though. At least healthier than any of the teams they faced.
Montréal dealt with the loss of their captain, Saku Koivu when he was hit in the eye by Justin Williams' errant stick.
New Jersey was healthy, but wasn't up for the challenge
Buffalo had four defenseman out for the majority of the series and lost a forward during the series.
Edmonton lost their clear-cut #1 goaltender Dwayne Rolison in game one.

Sure, Carolina was playing without Erik Cole, but they had been doing so since March. During the playoffs, they had the luxury of remaining injury-free. Doug Weight was hurt in game 5 of the SCF, but that was it.

Carolina will hope that this season will be like last in many ways. Obviously, they'd like to win the Cup again. They are already looking like last year's squad in that they haven't lost a game when leading after two.

The other way they want to repeat last season is with the injuries. Obviously, you'd like to be like Tampa and only lose something like 40 man-games to injury, but that isn't realistic for anyone.

This season, Carolina has had a ton of man-games lost. Largely due to surgeries to Frantisek Kaberle and Cory Stillman. Even aside from those, though, there have been a ton of other man-games lost. The Canes are okay with that as long as they continue to stay inside the playoff bubble. The injury gods couldn't possibly smite them this hard in the regular season and the playoffs. Assuming that's true, the Canes will be happy to lose man-games now and play healthy later.

Give or take a few games, Carolina has lost 174 man-games to injury this season.
Presently, defensemen Frantisek Kaberle (shoulder), Bret Hedican (finger) and Tim Gleason (foot) are out of the lineup and on the IR.

Here's a laundry list of the players with their injuries and the duration of said injury.

David Tanabe 13 games total

Nic Wallin 7 games total (new injury 01.18.07 versus WAS)

Glen Wesley 8 games total

Rod Brind'Amour 4 games total

Andrew Ladd 13 games total

Trevor Letowski 9 games total

Cory Stillman 32 games total

Keith Aucoin 5 games total

Tim Gleason 22 games

Bret Hedican 12 games

Frantisek Kaberle 49 games. Has not played yet.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

the Nathan Horton "goal"

During the Panthers five-on-three sequence mid-way through the third, the referees made what I believe to be a mistake. The "mistake" gave the Panthers a goal, but didn't cost the Canes the game. It wasn't a missed hooking call or a bad off-side call. Nothing like that. It was a bizarre turn of events that essentially ended with a non-reviewable call being overturned on the ice.

Olli Jokinen fired a wrist shot from the high slot that hit the crossbar and caromed up into the air and to the left of the goal. Martin Gelinas was in the goal mouth area, and attempted to bat it down, but didn't. Nathan Horton was just off the left post, and he did knock the puck down. After knocking the puck down, he put it in the net as referee Don Koharski was blowing the whistle and waiving the "goal" off. He immediately and emphatically motioned "no goal", followed by the gesture indicating that the puck had been knocked out of the air with a high stick.

The goal horn sounded, the fans and players were celebrating, but Koharski waved the goal off.

Immediately, all four officials convened at the scorer's table, eliciting some thought that the play would be reviewed. However, as the Fox Sports South crew pointed out, the play isn't reviewable. Rule 39.4 of the NHL Rules outlines the seven instances that are video reviewable. The sixth of these does pertain to high stick, but only in cases of the puck going directly in off a high stick. In this case, the puck was batted down with the high stick, then knocked in the net as two separate motions.

Accordingly, the replay was not used to "review the play". At the end of the day, however, the ruling on the ice was overturned and the goal was awarded.

There are a couple of key things here. The video replay showed that it was questionable, and may have been a legal stick. However, (1) the on-ice call was "high stick", and (2) Koharski blew his whistle. Even after the puck crossed the line, he emphatically waved it off.

Just in case, rule 32.2 states, in part:
As there is a human factor involved in blowing the whistle to stop play, the Referee may deem the play to be stopped slightly prior to the whistle actually being blown. The fact that the puck may come loose or cross the goal line prior to the sound of the whistle has no bearing if the Referee has ruled that the play had been stopped prior to this happening.

We've seen this before, where the referee says that he was in the "motion" of blowing the whistle, and the play should be deemed dead at that moment. This is what happened. In the replay, Koharski goes to his mouth with the left hand and whistle just before the puck crosses the line. His call was "high stick", and if that's the call, the play should be dead. Period. Whether the puck had or had not crossed the line is irrelevant. The whistle was being blown.

This is what Peter Laviolette was furious about. He barked at the officials for several moments, saying that the play was blown dead before the puck crossed the line. Once the whistle blows, the play is dead. Couple that with the emphatic signaling by the official, this should be clearly "no goal". The gestures of the lead official (Koharski) were consistent with the gestures for "no goal" and also with "batted with a high stick".

The official scorer conversed with somebody via telephone and the on-ice call was overturned. The play wasn't officially "under review", but after some delay, the on-ice crew was told to count the goal. I don't get it. On a non-reviewable situation, Toronto overruled the on ice officials. The way Lavi was going at the officials, and the way he was not assessed a bench minor for doing so suggest to me that they weren't completely sure about the ruling.

Moments later, the Fox Sports South people were told by Toronto that the emphatic gestures made by Koharski meant that he was waving off the high stick rather than waving off the goal. This is a completely bogus explanation of the occurrences, and the League should be embarrassed. If that were the case, Koharski would have also emphatically indicated that the goal was good, he would have pointed to the goal, then to Horton. This isn't what happened. He motioned emphatically "no goal" and indicated several times "high stick".

In the end, it doesn't really matter. Carolina still won the game. Florida got a standings point that they might not have gotten otherwise, but Carolina wasn't denied any. Not like the blatant error that cost the Oilers a standings point.

To be honest, I don't think the puck was batted with a high stick. None of that matters, though. The play was whistled dead, and that was the non-reviewable call on the ice. I don't know who forced the decision to overturn, or why they did so. The League should be embarrassed about its non-sensical explanation of the hand gestures made by Koharski. Their explanation isn't consistent with anything.

Canes emerge from Twilight Zone Fort Lauderdale with overtime win.

On Tuesday night, the Hurricanes traveled down to sunny Fort Lauderdale, took a detour through the Twilight Zone, and escaped with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Panthers. In some ways, it was reminiscent of the Canes 3-2 overtime victory in Florida on December 23. In others, it was like nothing I've ever seen, and the League office needs to take notice.

While the Canes won, they were unable to gain any ground in the SE division because first place Atlanta was in a shooting gallery against the Kings' two ECHL-calibre goaltenders. After Dan Cloutier and Mathieu Garon both went down with injuries, they were forced to dig very deep in their organization's depth chart to find Japanese sensation Yutaka Fukufugi and Barry Brust. I'm not exaggerating about their talent level. Something about shooting fish in a barrel.

Scott Walker gave the Canes at early lead at 10:49 of the first. During a power play sequence, an Erik Cole shot sailed wide, then took a strange bounce off the end wall glass after hitting a support stanchion. The puck caromed out in front of the left post, where Walker simply tucked it in. Ed "Billion Dollar" Belfour had no idea where the puck was. Cole got the first assist, and Rod Brind'Amour got the second.

Several hooking penalties were assessed against the Panthers during the rest of the first and the second, but the Canes were unable to cash in. Credit the Cats blueline for taking away chances. At one point during the second, Belfour got lucky when Justin Williams clanged a single shot of BOTH posts.

In the third, the Cats came to life. Olli "Cane Killah" Jokinen got an easy one at 5:56 to tie it at one. A shot from Rostislav Olesz was stopped by Crackers, but the rebound went into the low slot where Jokinen was waiting for it. Grahame didn't stand a chance. The secondary assist went to Joel Kwiatkowski, who I've never heard of.

The great controversy came at 10:16 of the third, when Nathan Horton was awarded a goal after the on-ice call was "no goal" and that the puck had been hit with a high stick. I'll cover this in a separate post.
Officially, a five-on-three goal by Nathan Horton from Cane Killah and Ruslan Salei at 10:16.

After several minutes of delay, play continued, and although the Canes were furious, they didn't let the perceived injustice take them off their game. Quite the opposite. They kept composure, forced overtime, and won.

Erik Cole got the game-tying goal on a wrist shot from the high slot at 13:34. Dennis Seidenberg brought the puck over the blue line, fed it to Cory Stillman, then went toward the net. The Cats defenders had to pay attention to him instead of double teaming Cole, and #26 was able to beat "The Eagle" badly five hole. It was Cole's 20th, and the helpers came from Stillman and Seidenberg.

Overtime didn't last long, and like the previous visit to Florida, the extra frame featured a penalty to a Cats defenseman. Last time, it was a bad hooking call against Jay Bouwmeester. This time, it was a legitimate holding call against Mike Van Ryn at 1:30 of the extra frame. Van Ryn exploded, smashing his stick over the crossbar (his own goal) and proceeded to smash his stick against the walls of the penalty box. For some reason, there wasn't an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. I've seen players penalized for far less. It didn't matter anyway, because Carolina only needed 17 seconds of said penalty.

At 1:47 of the bonus frame, Viva held the puck at the left dot, faked, faked, waited, then fired a wrist shot into the near side of the net, giving the Canes the win. Ray Whitney and Rod Brind'Amour got the assists. It's Viva's seventh game-winning goal, which ties him for first in the League, and his 10th power play goal. He's now got goals in four of the last five games. At 23 goals, he's well on his way to matching or bettering his career high 31 goals last year.

It may have been a surprise, but Justin Williams is certainly worthy of his All-Star appointment.

In a few minutes, I'll have a post about the Horton goal.

The "official" three stars of the game were Erik Cole (third) Olli Jokinen (second), and Justin Williams (first). The Fox Sports South crew and the RBH three stars line up the same way:
Third Star Olli Jokinen, FLA -- goal, assist
Second Star Erik Cole, CAR -- goal, assist
First Star Justin Williams, CAR -- game winning goal.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Canes lose in shootout

On Saturday night, the Canes dropped a very important game to the visiting Thrashers. The Canes had a one goal midway through the third, but couldn't hold it. As the end of regulation ended, I feared that it would go to shootout, and I didn't like our chances against Atlanta's snipers. I was justified in fearing the shootout, as Carolina was destroyed 2-0 in the fifth frame.

Scott Melanby got things started at 2:54, much to the delight of the 100 or so Thrashers fans sitting at the top of section 112. He stuffed in a rebound near the right post after Garnet Exelby's shot was stopped by Cam Ward. Jon Sim got the secondary assist.

Viva notched his 22nd goal of the season at 5:38 to tie it up. He wristed one in from the right circle assisted by Anton Babchuk and Eric Staal.

At 18:58, Glen Metropolit put the birds ahead 2-1 on a power play goal from a very tough angle. Erik Cole was in the box all by himself feeling shame for his second holding penalty of the period. Greg DeVries and Steve Rucchin assisted on the play.

Ray Whitney tied the game at 9:39 on nifty close range goal. As Rod Brind'Amour was being held up in front of the net, Erik Cole worked it behind the net and slid a backhand pass through the goalmouth to The Wizard, who had snuck in undetected. David "Snuggles" Tanabe got the second assist.

During a four-on-four sequence early in the third, newcomer Dennis Seidenberg gave the Canes a 3-2 lead at 0:27 of the third. He and Erik Cole were on a two-on-one break, Cole sent a nifty pass through the slot and Ham Pizza shot a wrister from the right circle. Kari Lehtonen got a bit of it, but it still trickled through his gear and into the net. It's his first goal as a Cane, and topped off a very good night for him. Cole had the primary assist, and Staal got the secondary.

Bobby Holik knotted it up at 10:27 of the third on a long bomb from the blue line. It was a rising and curving shot as it approached the net, and Cam got a good look at it, but it beat him cleanly top shelf.

As the minutes wound down, and overtime seemed imminent, there was a feeling that we wouldn't be able to take the overtime either. I didn't like the idea of a shootout against these guys, so I was really hoping for a late goal, but that didn't happen.

Nothing happened in the overtime, and the Thrash owned the shootout. Both Slava Kozlov and Maid Marian Hossa beat Ward badly on the stick side. Ray Whitney tried to get too fancy, and Justin Williams couldn't convert his attempt. With the Thrash up 2-0, there was no need for the final shooters, who I assume would have been Ilya Kovalchuk and Erik Cole.

I really think it's worth mentioning that Dennis Seidenberg had a great game. He's a big dude who takes the body when he needs to, and has a very good stick. He laid out five hits. He did a very good job shutting down passing lanes and canceling scoring opportunities. Added to that, he scored a goal by joining the rush and quickly switching to an offensive mindset.

Also, "Snuggles" Tanabe continued to play well. Now there's some speculation that his poor play early was because he was hurt. He's skating well, playing responsibly, and is active as hell offensively. Since returning from a groin injury, he's got five points in eight games, and has been averaging around 22 minutes TOI a night. Also, in his last four games, he has a cumulative rating of +7. He's, suffice to say, looking better. I'm dropping the Avi moniker.

The official three stars and the ones named in the arena were the same:
Garnet Exelby (third), Bobby Holik (second) and Maid Marian Hossa (first)

I didn't quite see it like that. The RBH three stars:

Third Star: Garnet Exelby, ATL -- 2 assists
Second Star: Erik Cole, CAR -- 2 assists
First Star: Bobby Holik, ATL -- goal

Carolina's run of Southeast games continues on Monday night at the Panthers. Then three out of four against the Caps. Meanwhile, the first place Thrashers will be battling the Atlantic division.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Canes-Birds tonight.

Tonight, the Canes will attempt to continue their hot streak with a win over first place Atlanta. The Thrash have lost five in a row, and are on the back end of a back-to-back that started last night in New Jersey.
The visitors will be tired, frustrated from blowing a late lead, and angry about their current losing skid. As "Bubba" from Canes Country tells it, those ingredients don't make a very good soup.
He recalls the last time the two teams met, November 1. In that game, (official scoresheet, Bob Hartley did that "Bob Hartley" thing where he sends his boys out there to do their worst in the closing minutes of a hopeless cause. In a 27 second span, the Thrashers committed four penalties totaling 21 PIM. Included in that bunch was a game misconduct and ejection to Scott Mellanby, a charging penalty to Garnett Exelby with 19 seconds to play and the dirty birds down by three goals, and JP Vigier for fighting with Craig Adams. There should have been an instigator (and fine) to Vigier and also to Hartley for that, but there wasn't.

I hope there isn't, but I'm expecting some dirty stuff from the dirty birds. I just hope it doesn't turn out like that nasty game they had with the Caps.

Puck drop is at 7:00, and this is the last of the non-televised games for a while. However, you can use your free Center Ice preview to watch the Thrashers coverage.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Canes mount massive comeback, defeat Cats 6-4

On Thursday night, the Canes needed a six goal explosion in the third frame to beat the visiting Panthers, earn their third straight win, and close the gap between the Thrashers and themselves.

For two periods, Carolina looked a little flat. Florida was winning the battles, they were getting more shots on net, they were getting better shots on net, they were dominating puck possession. The first period ended in stalemate, but the visitors poured it on in the second frame, getting even strength goals from Jaraj Kolnik (11:59), Olli Jokinen (12:49) and Stephen Weiss (16:33). I was watching the free preview of NHL Center Ice, and I got to thinking that it had all the earmarks of a shutout. Because it was Scrabble night, I left home (as I always do) during the second intermission. Since I had pretty much given up on the game anyway, I didn't bother to DVR the remainder of the game. That was a mistake.

Cam Ward was lifted in favor of Johnny Crackers, as one of those "wake up calls". What followed was something that hasn't been done by this franchise since December 27, 1981 -- before Eric Staal, Andrew Ladd, Chad LaRose, Tim Gleason, Anton Babchuk and Cam Ward were even born. They scored six goals in the third.

Chad LaRose, who has been working his tail off lately, got the ball rolling on a crazy bounce at 1:40. Scott Walker and Andrew Hutchinson assisted. His shot from the right dot caromed off a defenseman, then over Alex Auld's shoulder for a "lucky" goal.

At 3:06, Erik Cole got a breakaway goal to make it interesting. Rod Brind'Amour took advantage of a lazy line change by the Cats and fed Cole with a cross-ice two line pass to the Panthers blue line. As Mike Van Ryn and Ruslan Salei watched, Cole exploded past them all alone to the goal, where he beat Auld on the short side. Vintage Cole. Anton Babchuk had the secondary assist.

At 8:02, Scotty Walker tied it up on a beauty wrap-around. After the Cats committed an own-zone turnover, Sharpie attempted the exact same shot from earlier, a soft wrister from the right dot. This time, it hit some bodies on the way through, and was controlled by Eric Belanger on the left side of the net. He got it to Walker, right behind the cage, and from there Walker snuck around the left post and beat Auld five hole. It was Walker's 14th goal, and Belanger and LaRose each picked up their 10th assist.

Cory Stillman scored the prettiest Carolina goal of the night at 9:35 to give the Canes the lead. To be fair, Jokinen's goal in the first period was incredible. He beat Cam Ward high on the glove side from the left dot. What made it remarkable is that Ward came out so far, cutting off the angle so much that Jokinen had to be pinpoint accurate with his shot. He was.

Anyway... About Stillman's goal at 9:35. During the power play, Carolina had four forwards plus the offensive-minded Andrew Hutchinson out there. With three guys camped out on the blue line, staying on-side, Stillman brought it in, then dropped it to Hutchinson on the right point. He faked a shot, then tapped it ahead to Stillman, who was streaking north to south through the slot. The lead pass was so perfectly placed that all Stillman had to do was flick it in from the right hash mark, beating Auld badly on the stick side. Just the way you do it in practice. Hutch had the primary assist, and Brind'Amour the second.

As if that wasn't enough, Carolina kept their foot on the gas, and they needed it. Before the PA announcement was made for Stillman's goal, Feet made it 5-3. This would turn out to be the game winning goal. Mike Commodore attempted a shot from the right point that was stopped by Auld, but the rebound went right out front to CrAdams (I guess there's no need to call him that anymore). Hands of Feet backhanded it in, and the Canes were up by a deuce. Commodore and Mike Belanger got the helpers.

To make things interesting again, Olli Jokinen scored another at 19:04 to bring the Cats back to within a goal. On the power play, Jokinen fired a rocket one-timer over Crackers' left shoulder, assisted by Josef Stumpel and Stephen Weiss.

With the goalie pulled for an extra attacker, Carolina was able to get the puck deep and pot an empty netter by Ray Whitney at 19:47, assisted by Brindy and Cole.

For that third period, anyway, they looked like the 05-06 Canes. They were aggressive, and kept their foot on the gas the whole time. Not only that, but after the goaltending change, the team responded by snapping to attention. And the offense was really spread out. Six different goal scorers. Eleven different players with offensive stats.

Since I didn't actually see the third, it's hard to assess stars, but Brind'Amour had three assists, Cole had a goal and an assist, Belanger had two assists.

Worth mentioning is that David (I'm going to lay off of the Avi thing for a while) Tanabe continued to play well. This is a pleasant surprise, but we knew that there was a good defenseman in there somewhere. We saw it before he got hurt in '02, and to have been drafted in the first round of the 1999 entry draft means a lot.

Carolina is now within four points of first place Atlanta in the Southeast, and will have a chance to narrow the gap even more. Atlanta begins a back-to-back tonight in New Jersey. Tomorrow, the Canes will host the same Thrashers in a very important game for both teams.

Puck drop will be at 7:00, and again the Canes TV network won't have it, but your free preview of Center Ice will.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Who's gonna wear the "A"?

Earlier today, Carolina traded one of its alternate captains to the 'Yotes for some much needed defensive help. It has brought to light a question that I think has an easy answer. Who will wear the vacated "A"?

Carolina had been using an unusual system of rotating three alternate captains. Kevyn Adams, Cory Stillman and Glen Wesley. Adams is gone, and Wesley is injured. He didn't travel with the team to T-dot. This means Carolina has only one available alternate captain. Three options here:

(A) Roll with just a C and one A.
(2)Promote someone to a temporary alternate until Wesley is healthy again.
(III)Promote someone to the "rotating" alternate position permanently.

My money is on the Canes employing option 2. It's an easy call on who gets the call. I've already opined on this many times, and that guy is Erik Cole. Eric Staal comes to mind only briefly, and he's the only one I can think that would deserve any consideration at this juncture.

For the next couple of games, then, I would bet that Colesy will have an "A" on his chest. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets it permanently, but I would be surprised if they don't do anything.

I sure am glad I never bought the K. Adams sweater I was coveting two seasons ago.

K-Ads traded to Phoenix

I just read (story = N&O)that the Canes have traded Alternate captain and one-time fan favorite Kevyn Adams to the Phoenix Coyotes for defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.

Even before the current wave of injuries to Carolina's blue line, there had been some talk of trading Adams. He's been unhealthy, ineffective, and there are rumors (which I still refuse to believe) that he was in Laviolette's doghouse.

The current wave of injuries necessitated some sort of trade, but I guess I had imagined something a little better. That said, even when I consider my allegiance to K-Ads, he was the most dispensable player.

I've never heard of Seidenberg, but he's a healthy defenseman with NHL experience, which is something even our AHL affiliate can't offer. Hopefully, things will work out.

He should be gathering his stuff, getting his passport in order, and flying to Toronto to join the team tomorrow.

The native of Germany will don the #4 sweater, worn by Aaron Ward for so many years.

More as this develops.

So long, K-Ads!

Canes report card .... part 5 of 5

This is the final installment of the Canes mid-season report cards. At the end of the regular season, I'll grade them again, plus Frantisek Kaberle will be back in the mix. I'll also have something to say about newly acquired defenseman Dennis Seiderberg. By then, I hope to be able to do this more concisely.

#48 Anton Babchuk (aka "Babs", aka "Yentl") -- B
Babchuk has been somewhat of a surprise. Astute observers last year could see potential in the youngster, but he had far more detractors than fans. This season, he's proving the astute to be just that. Make no mistake: I'm not saying he's the next Chris Pronger, but he's quite good and he's only going to get better. He's still only 22 years old. The thing everyone notices about him (aside from his massive frame) is his slapshot. He's got one of the heaviest shots around. When he can get his shot through traffic and to the goaltender, there's trouble. Even when it's off net, it hits the end wall so hard that it gives a nice rebound out front.
Here's the thing, though. The kid can actually play defense. Seen mostly as a depth guy last season, he's been leaned upon heavily this season and he's responded very well. I know the coaches worked very hard with him over the short off-season.
He's second on the team among defensemen in scoring with 10 points (2/8) and both of his goals have been game-winners.
When Frantisek Kaberle returns sometime late this month or early February, Babs might see his ice time diminish, but in the mean time, he's doing a good job holding his own.

#59 Chad LaRose (aka Sharpie, aka "Chadders", aka "Rosie") -- B
LaRose has been the only good thing about the fourth line this season. K-Ads has been awful and has been sent packing. CrAdams has been a little below average. Sharpie gives everything he's got on every shift, out-working teammates and opponents alike. He's a really speedy guy with above average skill, but his size will prevent him from being a force unless and until he can improve his skill set. He does what's expected of him and a little more. Even though the scoresheet never tells the tale, he's often one of the best players for the Canes. He won't make mistakes that hurt the team. He's an excellent forechecker and a great team guy. Eventually, he'll be more productive offensively, but he's doing what he's doing just fine for the time being. Nobody expects 20 goals out of a fourth-line guy.

#61 Cory Stillman (aka "Stiller", aka "The Silent Assassin") -- A
What can I say about Stillman that hasn't been said so many times by guys who get paid to say it? Nothing, but I'll say it anyway.
Stillman is one of the most underrated players in our sport. The last two full seasons, he was a point-a-night player, and won the Stanley Cup two seasons in a row. After missing half the season this year due to shoulder surgery, he picked up right where he left off. In 12 games played, he's got 10 points (1/9). When he's in the lineup, he makes everyone better. He doesn't even have to be on the ice. He leads on and off the ice. In the room, on the bench, he's making everyone better.
He's definitely one of the best passers in the game. He's smart and accurate with his passing (excepting, of course that SCF game 5 blunder last summer) and knows just how to create a play. In the offensive zone, he's patient and skillful, knowing when to pass and when to shoot. I still say that this was the best free agent pickup of the 05-06 NHL.
Folks were a little surprised when he was immediately given an "A" upon his arrival in Raleigh, but any doubts were silenced before camp was even over.

I'll never understand why a guy can produce at a point-a-night for three straight seasons without getting love from the MSM.

That's it. I'm not actually going to give Stormy a grade.

I might or might not get around to grading coach Peter Laviolette and GM Jim Rutherford. We'll see.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Canes report card .... part 4 of 5

Here's part four of the Canes mid-season report cards. I'm almost done with the whole thing.

#27 Craig Adams (aka "CrAdams", aka "Craigassaurus Rex" aka "Craiggers", aka "Hands of Feet", aka "Hands of Stone") -- D+
CrAdams, like the unrelated Kevyn Adams, is not doing much to provide energy to the "energy line". He's looked bad at times, and has a cumulative -9 rating for the season, ranking him second to last on the team. Expectations were pretty low for the Brunei native, but even with increased ice time due to injuries, Craig has failed to meet the low expectations. He's appeared in every game this season and has accumulated just 9 points (6/3), which means he's behind defensemen Mike Commodore (16 points) and Anton Babchuk (10 points). He's also behind Cory Stillman, who has 10 points in just 12 games. He's slow-footed and lacks offensive ability, but he's very good on the backcheck and at battling for loose pucks. Not enough to get him a better grade, though. Craiggers will have two more years in Carolina.

#28 Andrew Hutchinson (aka "Hutch")-- B-
Due to a couple of long visits to the injured reserve last season, Hutch failed to meet the criteria for getting his name etched on the Cup -- 41 regular season games played OR 1 game in SCF), the Canes petitioned the League to have Hutch on there. The league approved. This season, the injuries have been to just about every one else, and hutch has seen his ice time and his role on the team increase. He went from being a seventh defenseman or healthy scratch to being an every night starter. He hasn't disappointed, but he hasn't exactly shone either. Neither a horrifying liability nor a tremendous asset. One thing the coaches asked him to work on last year was putting more pucks on net. He does a good job of running the power play, but they wanted him to shoot more. He's getting better, but he's not exactly what anyone would call an "offensive threat". That said, he's on pace to set a new personal best point production. Thanks to increased ice time.

#30 Cam Ward (aka "Wardo") -- C
The Conn Smythe winner got off to a really slow start this season, and has faltered at times. Still, he has a winning record (19-12-3), and his GAA (2.78) and his SV% (.901) are somewhere around 20th in the league. Not terrible. One mitigating factor in the grade here is that there has not been one single game this season where he has had a full, healthy blue line in front of him. Most nights, two or more defensemen are hurt, and right now, there are four out. When one of the few available defenseman is Avi Tanabe, there's trouble. Given that, I think he's done a fine job. We'll see what happens when Frantisek Kaberle et al return and Ward can focus on goaltending.
Defensive help or no defensive help, there's still the problem with Cam's rebound control, which has been spotty. I contend that this will get better when the Canes better defensemen are back on the ice, and they can deal with the rebounds.

#45 David Tanabe (aka Avi, aka "Snuggles") D-
Last night's game against the Islanders notwithstanding, Tanabe has been pretty bad. He's been irresponsible in his own end, sloppy in neutral ice, and non-existent in the offensive zone. He has tremendous speed, and should be a more active player in the Canes "everybody in" offensive system. He's made some horrible mistakes that have led directly to goals against, and some other plays that have indirectly led to goals against.
He has had a few moments of brilliance, which gives false hope that he's developing better skills. However, those hopes are quashed when he does something dumb on the next shift, or the next period, or the next game. He can be good in all aspects of the game, but he does it with such infrequency.

#47 John Grahame (aka Crackers, aka "Johnny Crackers", aka "Johnny G") -- D+
Carolina allowed Marin Gerber to head off to Ottawa, promoted Ward to the #1 spot, and went out and got John Grahame. Grahame had struggled a bit in Tampa, and was sort of in John Tortarelli's dog house. Peter Laviolette, however, has a good relationship with Crackers after having coached him a few times on Team USA. It was a gamble, but Canes fans were okay with having him as a back up.
Grahame is a very big dude with a completely different style from Ward, which probably gives the defensemen fits the same way a wide receiver struggles with a quarterback who throws the ball differently from the normal guy. Okay, it's nowhere near the same, but the way he sets up and the way he plays the shots and handles rebounds is so different from Ward's style that the players have to adjust when Grahame is in the pipes.
In limited appearances, Grahame has been inconsistent. That's to be expected when you only play once every ten games or so. Unlike some former Canes goaltenders who had been relegated to backup, he's not sitting there sulking and pouting, though. He wants to help the team, and is always one of the first guys out there to congratulate Ward after a win.
One thing that is disappointing is his focus. He gets rattled and stays rattled when he makes a mistake.
Honestly, I'd like him to get some more starts so he can have a chance to improve on the things like rebound control and concentration. It's hard to simulate that in practice. With a thinner schedule in the second half (fewer back-to-backs) there won't be so many obvious chances for Crackers to start.

RBC changeover staff deserves an A+

In light of handing out mid-season grades, I'd like to take a brief moment to acknowledge the excellent job that the changeover staff at the RBC Center does.

The Hurricanes share the arena with the North Carolina State University men's basketball team.

NCSU had a home game on Saturday afternoon that didn't end until about 4:00. The Canes were playing at 7:00. That means the changeover crew had just two hours to change over and have the arena re-open at 6:00.

Check out this story from the N&O about the excellent job they did, completing the task in 1 hour, 19 minutes, 30 seconds. A new in-house record.
Here's a time-lapse video of the crew getting it done.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Canes top Isles 4-2, Staal breaks scoring drought.

On Saturday night, the Canes snapped a shutout streak, a losing streak, and Eric Staal snapped out of a really long personal goalless streak.

Here's my not-quite-liveblog account.

The. Streak. Is. Over.
Carolina finally scored a goal at 19:59 of the first period, ending a scoreless streak that lasted more than seven periods, totaling 151 minutes, 45 seconds. Whew.

Early on, it looked good for the Canes. Erik Cole was going in on a semi-breakaway, and Tom Poti of the Islanders decided that the only way to stop Cole was to throw his stick. Whether he "threw" it, or "lost the handle" on it is immaterial. The referee has no choice in the matter: he must award a penalty shot.
At 2:52 of the first:
Cole used his usual über wide approach to the goal, sweeping in across the faceoff circles, going from left to right. As he was about to attempt his shot from the goal mouth, he lost the handle and never got a shot off.

A few minutes later, while Mike Commodore was in th box, the Isles had a very active power play. During the two minute segment, Miro Satan managed to hit the right post after making a really nifty spin-o-rama move in the low slot. Then about 30 seconds later, he clanged on off the left post on a breakaway. Two posts by the same player during the same power play? Crazy. Good luck for Cam Ward? Bad luck for Satan? Who knows.

Later on, Erik Cole would draw another penalty with his breakout speed. And another. After Ricky DiPietro made a couple of stellar saves very late in the period, Viva FINALLY lit the lamp at 19:59. The clock showed all zeros, but after a very short review, they determined that it crossed the line with 0.8 seconds remaining.
For the record, it was a backhand from the low slot. Cory Stillman and Andrew Huthchinson assisted on the power play goal. It's Viva's 20th goal of the season, and his 9th power play marker.

A very good period for the home boys.
Right out of the gate, Erik Cole scored a beauty. At 0:37. Ray Whitney hit him with a perfect pass on a two-on-one, Cole was in all alone, and he made a nice move to force DiPi out. A little hesitation, then a move to the backhand, and he beat the man with the 15 year contract.
Even strength goal with helpers from Ray Whitney and Rod Brind'Amour at 0:37.

Trent Hunter brought the Isles right back in it at 2:05. Freddy Meyer blasted a shot from the blue line that was redirected with a backhand from Mike Sillinger in the low slot. Ward was a little turned around, the shot trickled through his legs, then Hunter simply tapped it in.
Even strength goal assisted by Mike Sillinger and Freddy Meyer at 2:05.

At 4:28, Erik Cole potted his second goal of the night while the Canes had a five-on-three. Cory Stillman fired a slapshot from the left circle on which he snapped his second stick in less than a minute. The shot made it all the way through to DiPi, but he didn't control the rebound, and Cole tipped it in from the right post to put the Canes up 3-1.
Five on three goal assisted by Cory Stillman and Ray Whitney at 4:28.

Still later, Cole demonstrated why he's one of the best players in the league on a non-scoring play. He whiffed on a one-timer from the high slot and the Isles were off and running the other way. Cole managed to catch up to and cancel the attacking Isles skater, and get the puck back the other way. Incredible.

Even during the Isles power plays in the second period, the Canes were getting scoring chances. A very good 20 minutes of team hockey.

Good Stuff.
Early, Rod Brind'Amour took a questionable penalty for goaltender interference, then he must have said the magic word, because he had to feel shame by himself for four minutes. Carolina did a great job of killing off the whole time.

At 14:40, Eric Staal FINALLY got a goal. There was some furious action in front of the Isles net with some point blank shots from Scott Walker and Viva. DiPi made some nice saves, and I think a defenseman made one too. In a close range ping-pong match, Eric Staal was the last to touch it, as his whack at it from the low slot found the back of the net. It was his first goal in ten games.
Even strength goal with helpers from Scott Walker and Viva at 14:40.

At 17:52, Miro Satan scored a strange one. Brendan Witt sent a harmless left point shot on net, but it was redirected a couple of times on its way in, most recently by Satan. I watched the replay about a dozen times, and I still can't tell exactly what happened, but there was a redirection by Viktor Kozlov between Will and Satan.

Carolina wouldn't get a chance to shoot at an empty net because the Islanders committed a penalty that kept all the action in their own end for the remainder.

Overall, this was a very well played game, and it was great to see Erik Cole own the entire game. Also very good to see Staalsy snap out of his drought.

This, dear readers, is what we call "righting the ship".

Unfortunately, the injury bug continues to hit the Canes blue line. They were only able to dress five defensemen because Glen Wesley (lower body, day-to-day), Bret Hedican (finger, four weeks), Tim Gleason (foot, three weeks) and Frantisek Kaberle (shoulder, two-three weeks) are all out. Albany doesn't have anybody to spare. This forced Avi to play more than 25 minutes, but he did a really amazing job. I imagine that Jim Rutherford is already working on making a trade for some depth defence. We're not talking about a Tomas Kaberle. We're just talking about a stopgap.

Anyway, good to see the boys back in the W column.

The "official" three stars were Cam Ward (third), David Tanabe (second) and Erik Cole (first).

The Canes teevee three stars went to Cam Ward (third), Ray Whitney (second) and Erik Cole (first).

Those are both interesting, and although the selection of Tanabe is a little strange, I think he is worthy of some mention.

However, the RBH three stars go to:
THIRD STAR Ray Whitney, CAR. 2 assists
SECOND STAR Justin Williams, CAR. 1 goal, 1 assist
FIRST STAR Erik Cole, CAR. 2 goals, GWG

honorable mention #1 Eric Staal snapped out of a 10 game scoring drought.
honorable mention #2 David Tanabe (rather than his twin brother Avi showed up and logged 25:06 in ice time and finished with a +2 rating.

Up next: the Canes travel to Toronto on Tuesday night. Following that, seven straight games against divisional opponents. This will be the time for the Canes to shine.

Canes report card .... part 3 of 5

After taking a day off, I'll continue with parts 3 and 4 of the continuing series of midseason report cards. In the meantime, Carolina has lost their third straight game (all to teams from cities starting with the letter P), and has been shut out twice in a row. Carolina hasn't scored in the year 2007, and will look to end that trend tonight versus the Islanders in the RBC Center at 7:00.

Without further ado, the grades:

# 19 Trevor Letowski (aka "The Big Letowski" aka "The Dude", "El Duderino, "His Dudeness") -- C
There weren't many expectations about Letowski coming in. We knew he would be a third line winger at best and that he would be more of a Josef Vasicek replacement than a Matt Cullen replacement. He's got a ton of energy and like the other "water bugs", he's blessed with speed and elusiveness. The only problem is that he's not as skilled or as confident as Ray Whitney, so he's not going to be much of an offensive threat. Early in the season, he was pasted by the Penguins' Colby Armstrong with a devastating open ice hit. Letowski missed nine games with a concussion, and might have lost what little confidence he had. Presently, he's got 5 (2/3) points, and I suspect that his second half will be better, but I wouldn't expect anything more than 18 points total. With the way things are going injury-wise, he will have no choice but to step up his game. The mitigating factor here is that expectations were low for him. Elsewise, his grade would be much lower.

#22 Mike Commodore (aka "Commy")-- A-
I'm still completely giddy about the way this has worked out for the Canes. After being essentially cast off by the Flames, Commy found a home in Carolina, where defensemen were needed. He saw significant ice time, and surprised many critics by being a solid, dependable defenseman. This season, he's continued to be a very liable d-man, and has been a major player in this "defensemen joining the rush" thing. In fact, he scored a goal this season while the Canes had a two man disadvantage against Buffalo. For the record, that has been the only three-on-five goal in the entirety of the NHL this season.
With 16 (4/12) points, he's already surpassed last season's points total and is on pace to outperform several of the Carolina forwards. Kevyn Adams, I'm talking to you. The only thing I don't like about his game is that he's taking some lazy penalties with too much frequency. He's been in the wrong place at the wrong time for more than one of those delay of game (puck in crowd) penalties.
However, he's almost always in the right place at the right time, whether it's denying an attacking skater a passing lane, or creating a screen in front of an opposing goaltender. We've got him for one more year, and hopefully another renewal after that.

#24 Scott Walker (aka "Remo") -- B+
This has turned out to be a really good trade. Carolina exchanged Josef Vasicek, who once led the Canes in goal scoring for a season (2003-04) for Nashville's all time points and goals leader. For whatever reason, Vasicek wasn't working in Carolina, and I think Nashville freed up some cap space for JP Dumont with this trade. It's gone well. He's got decent speed, great skating ability, good passing skills, a great sense of where his teammates are and where they will be. His d skills aren't that great, but he doesn't put the Canes in harm's way. He's definitely not afraid to throw the gloves down, either. He's just about the only Canes player to avoid injury this season, which was one of the concerns coming in. He's sitting on 26 (12/14) points, and if he can step it up a tiny bit in the second half, he'll be able to reach the 60 (25/35) points that I predicted on the day of the trade.
All indicators are that he's a really good guy to have in the room. One of those guys that all the guys like. Certainly, the fans do.
I haven't been able to discern the results, but Walker played in a charity poker tournament against other NHLers. However much he won all went to the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation, which focuses on children's health, education and helping kids (mostly inner city, underprivileged) get into team sports.

#25 Eric Belanger B
The other player in the "Jack Johnson trade". I have a lot of thoughts about that trade, but that's for another post.
I had no idea what to expect from Belanger. On the day of the trade, I looked at his past numbers and took a shot in the dark, guessing that he'd hit 40 points this season. He probably won't but he won't be far off that mark. He's got some nice moves, and generates some outstanding scoring chances, but he's suffering from whatever Maxim Afinogenov suffered from last season. He just can't finish. He hits posts, crossbars, he's been robbed by phenomenal saves. He's been everywhere but in the net. I think once the Canes get back on the right foot, Belanger will have a good second half, and might end up getting that 40. At his current pace, he'll end with 30 (13/17).
One aspect of his game that I really like is that he can dominate the faceoff circle. When Brindy was out, Belanger was the only one the Canes could trust to go in there and win an important draw. His style, and his stance in the circle are actually really reminiscent of Brind'Amour, so it doesn't surprise me.

#26 Erik Cole -- A-
After a career-threatening neck injury last winter, Cole surprised everyone by returning to the Canes lineup for the final two games of the Stanley Cup Final. He looked good but rusty. While we were all glad to see him, and he played a huge part in setting up the Cup winning goal, there was some debate about whether he should have just taken the rest of the summer off. Coming into camp, there was some trepidation, and the knowledge that he's much more at risk for neck injury than the next guy. For a guy who plays hard and fast, this is obviously something to be concerned about.
Most nights, you can tell that he's having some neck pain, and on some nights, you can see on the bench that he's in a great deal of pain. Still, he plays, and he goes 100%. Last season, he was on fire, headed toward an 82 point season, only to sit out the last 22 regular season games and the first 23 playoff games. This season, he's not far off that pace. He's got 36 (16/20), and when the Canes can right the ship, he'll score in bunches. I figure he'll end with about 78 (35/43) points.
Even when the rest of the team is struggling, and even on the nights when the Canes get crushed, it's a thrill to watch him. He's so fast and so strong and so agile and handles the puck so well. He can turn nothing at all into a breakaway chance.

He's still young and has two more years in Carolina. At some point, which I assume will be next season, he'll be given the "A" when Wesley retires and K-Ads goes on the free agent market.

So there's that.

The Canes will try to (and I predict they will) snap out of this horrible funk tonight. I'll watch the game and do that semi-liveblog thing with open comment thread. After all that, I'll attempt to get part four of the report cards up. Either way, I'll have the whole shebang done by Sunday night.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Canes report card .... part 2 of 5

In a continuing series, giving the Canes a mid-term grade, here is the second fifth of the Canes numerical roster:

#12 Eric Staal -- C-
It looks like Staalsy is suffering from Josef Vasicek syndrome. Lead the team in goals one season, then stink it up the next. To be fair, his 34 points (17/17) through 42 games isn't exactly "crappy". It's good enough to be in the top 50 league-wide, but we know that he can do much better. It's not as if he's been robbed a ton of times. It's not as if he's getting bad bounces, or clanging shots off posts. He's just not playing with the fire that we saw last season. There are games (and this is where the Josef Vasicek comparison really works) that he's just out there floating around aimlessly. He's not aggressive enough with the puck, not selfish enough, and just not the same player we saw last winter. Unless he goes completely en fuego in the second half, this season will be a major disappointment in contrast to last year's 100 point break-out season. Two theories to explain his lack of effort this season: (A) -- The "Stanley Cup Hangover" is a real thing, and he's just plum tuckered out. I don't buy that because Viva picked up right where he left off. Roddy is better than he was last winter. Ditto Whitters. No sale there. (2)The "Player tries hardest in a contract year" theory saying that a player in the last year of a contract, and in particular, the last year of a rookie contract will bust his ass, giving 125% each night. When he's rewarded with a nice new long guaranteed contract, he feels like he doesn't have anything to prove. I'm a little more likely to buy that one. Viva and the Captain both just signed long term renewals, and they aren't resting on their laurels. However, they've been around the block a few more times. In Roddy's case, he's been around the block a few thousand more times.
This isn't just sub-par play. This is frequently bad play. We're all really hoping that he can right his own ship, and I actually think that he's simply in a really long slump. I think he'll break out of it, and finish with around 80 points, which will still be a disappointment, but for now, I'm not impressed. Knowing what he can do and what he is is doing forces me to give him a bad grade. I'm reluctant to grade him as high as I did, but 34 points is still pretty good output.

#13 Ray Whitney (aka "The Wizard", aka Whitters, aka "Everybody loves Raymond" -- A+
With his silky smooth passing, his above average speed and his Danny Briere-esque slipperiness, Whitney is a player who gives opposing defensemen fits. He's really fitting in on the first line with Viva and Brind'Amour, and it really is quite a treat to see these three highly skilled players together. I've seen some insanely delicious no-look and behind-the-back passes from Whitney and some incredible skating clinics. Add all of this to the fact that he's a prankster and a generally fun guy, he's definitely a fan favorite. He's also a really well liked guy in the room. He's second on the Canes with 44 (16/28) points, and is on pace to set a new personal best at 86 points. He's in the final year of his contract with the Canes, and we'd love to see him around in 08 and beyond.

#14 Kevyn Adams (aka K-Ads) -- D+
I can't bring myself to give Kevyn a failing grade, but it's awfully tempting. There was lots of gossip about a fight K-Ads had with Bret Hedican during training camp, and how he's been in the coach's dog house since then. The "fight" happened, but there's no dog house business. Nonetheless, K. Adams' play has been -- even on a good day -- bad. He's not bringing energy to the "energy line", and that makes it infinitely easier for the opponents to light it up against our fourth line. His -10 is indicative of just that. Out of the "regular" players, his TOI per game is dead last, and he's still managed to bring up the rear in the +/- category. The doghouse isn't about fisticuffs. The doghouse is about poor play. The fact that he'd been playing through pain with a busted wrist (suffered in Game 7 of the SCF) and required surgery isn't enough of a mitigating factor in this grade. He's just not playing well.
UPDATE -- JANUARY 8 3:30 PM --- Kevyn Adams has been traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for defenseman Dennis Seidenberg

#16 Andrew Ladd -- C-
There was a reason that the Hurricanes traded up to get Ladd in the 2004 draft in front of a huge crowd in Raleigh. He has tremendous potential, and we really started to see that last season and during the playoffs. He's gritty and smart with the puck. He's had a shoulder issue and an emergency appendectomy this season and has played hurt a few nights, and he's been good in small spells. Unfortunately, he's not quite ready to bring intensity every night. I'd like to see him be more physical, and to have better defensive skills. He's going to develop very nicely if the Canes can be patient enough.

# 17 Rod Brind'Amour (aka "Brindy" aka "The Captain", aka "Roddy", aka "Tha Warchief") -- A
At 36 years old, the Captain is in far better shape than anyone else on the team. He's leading the Canes in TOI per game and is among the top three in the League for forwards in that category. His faceoff winning prowess has been beaten to death on this and other pages. No need to rehash that. He's missed a few games with a "lower body" injury, but is still tops on the team with 45 (13/32) points, and he's well on his way to his highest point production in more than 10 years. As is the case with Ray Whitney, he works extremely well with his linemates, and it's no surprise that those three are the top three scorers on the Canes. In fact, their 137 collective points account for 47% of the team's collective point total.
Brind'Amour has been superb from a defensive standpoint, proving that he's deserving of his Selke award last year. His 4 GWG are second on the team and near the top of the League. He might occasionally sit out with an injury, but he never "takes a night off" by mailing it in.

That's it for part two. Tune in tomorrow for part three (Letowski, Commodore, Walker, Belanger, Cole)

The Canes are at home tonight against the 'Yotes, trying to end a two game skid. They're already down 1-0 early in the first frame.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Canes report card .... part 1 of 5

Now that we've reached the half-way point of the season, it's time for the midterm grades. This isn't going to be easy, but I'll go down the Canes roster numerically and grade them all. Feel free to bust my chops if you disagree with a grade. Please note that some of these grades will be given based on rash decisions.

#2 Glen Wesley -- B+
The ancient defenseman is still extremely reliable. He seldomly makes mistakes in the defensive zone, and does an outstanding job on the penalty kill. Offensively, he leaves a bit to be desired, and has had a tiny bit of difficulty with his infrequent opportunities to run the point on power play. A great player, but slowing down with age.

#6 Bret Hedican -- B-
A very sound defenseman, who, like Wesley, is letting his age and injuries catch up to him. He's a phenomenal skater with good passing skills. He's on pace to have a good season in terms of assists, but he's not active enough in that whole "joining the rush" thing to make any waves in goal scoring. He's doing a good job, but he can't be as physical as he used to be, and occasionally it hurts the Canes.

# 7 Nick Wallin (aka "Nicky", aka "Secret Weapon") -- B+
The defenseman has been set back by a couple of injuries, and had one or perhaps two "bad games", but aside from that, he's been very solid. Since last season, he's picked up his level of physical intensity, and has really cranked up the hit-meter. He does a good job of finding the right place to be when the goaltender is out of position. Although he has an uncanny knack of coming up with some clutch plays, he doesn't bring much to the table offensively, and really can't be trusted to handle the puck.

#8 Tim Gleason -- incomplete -- B
Gleason has been a very pleasant surprise for the Canes. Acquired over the summer from the Kings in the "Jack Johnson deal", there weren't many expectations for him. Right away, he was forced to be a major blue line player, and he didn't disappoint. He's been victim to a few injuries, keeping him out of about 14 games so far, and he played hurt in a few others. When he's been healthy, he's been very good, but we really don't know. No offensive skills, but he's a very physical defenseman, and has displayed the ability to take over the defensive zone. By the time he's done developing, he should be an outstanding defenseman. It's not really fair to give him a grade since we haven't seen enough of him playing healthy, but I sure have liked what I've seen.

#11 Justin Williams (aka Viva)-- A+
Viva has been arguably the Canes best player this season. He may still be developing, but he tallied 76 (31/45) points last season, and is on pace to match that this season, with more points coming from goals. He's on pace for 37 goals, but I think he'll have no trouble reaching 40. A power forward with explosive speed, good puck handling skills and a nose for the front of the net, he's always in the right place at crucial moments. It's no surprise to me that at the halfway point, he's leading the entire League in game winning goals (6) and leading the team in shorties (2). He still commits more stick fouls than we'd like, but he more than makes up for it with his point production and his high level of "team toughness".

That's it for now. This is tougher than I imagined, and I'll have to do these five players at a time.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Canes start new year in the Steel City

On Sunday night, two teams headed in opposite directions met in what looked (on paper) like a cake walk for the Canes. The Canes had won six of their last seven games and the visiting Flyers had lost 11 of their last 12 games. Carolina was looking to finish the season on the right foot, gain some ground on Atlanta, and settle in for what will be a much easier schedule in the second half.

Games aren't played on paper.

Philly came in and ruined the New Year's bash, stomping the Canes 5-2. Although Robert Esche was standing on his head, that really wasn't the thing. Carolina was once again plagued by defensive lapses, leaving Cam Ward out to dry. Following a great power play night on Friday, they struggled on Sunday, converting only one of eight.

From a SOG standpoint, you would think that Carolina controlled the game. They didn't. What the stat lines don't indicate is that out of 42 shots by the Canes, probably 35 of them were right at Esche's chest.

Ray Whitney got things going, and was one of just a few Canes worth a crap. He had both Canes goals, and very nearly had a third on a couple of chances.

I apologize about the lack of a "real" post on that game, but it was pretty awful.

On a side note, I once said that one of my solipsistic goals for this blog was to one day be in conversation with a stranger and have them say "Hey, I know you... You're that red and black hockey guy!" Well,... it happened at that game during the first intermission. It wasn't quite like I imagined, because it was a guy. Of course, in my daydream, it's a woman, and we end up being wed. Maybe next time...

I'm swamped with work, but I really am working on those report cards I talked about. That, and memorizing the periodic elements and their inflected forms (for Scrabble). I know. I know. A sneak preview into the report cards: Eric Staal won't be getting an A.

Carolina will start the '07 part of the schedule on the road in Pittsburgh tonight. Jordan Staal already owes Eric two Gatorades, and the elder will hope to make it three tonight.

The second half of Carolina's schedule is going to be much easier. Many teams have only played 38 games so far, and Carolina has already hit the halfway point. Of their 15 back-to-back situations, Carolina has already played 11. Also, the remainder of the schedule will be heavy with home games; 23 of the remaining 41 games are at the RBC Center. Also, the Canes won't have to face the Sabres any more. At least not in the regular season.

Puck drop will be at 7:30. Hopefully, I'll get a game recap up by tomorrow morning, and the report card by the end of the week.


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