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

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Canes waive Hamilton

On Wednesday, the Hurricanes waived Alexander GeorgeJeffrey "Green Eggs and" Hamilton. Hamilton was Carolina's "big" free agent acquisition over the summer, and was expected to center the third line. Of course, Carolina later reacquired Matt Cullen via trade, and Hamilton's position wasn't that good.

He started the season, as Carolina's power play did, on a bang. He scored 12 (4/8) points in the first 14 games, but dropped sharply after that. Since then, he's scored just five (1/4) points in 31 games and has been scratched eight times including the last five games in a row. Trevor Letowski has been playing well, albeit not putting up points, and has been getting the minutes that Hamilton would otherwise get.

The waive is believed to be part of an elaborate plan to make it easier (presumably vis-a-vis the cap) to acquire a coveted player at or near the trade deadline. According to rumor, Carolina is stepping up their interest in Colorado defenseman J-M Basquiat Liles.

Teams will have until noon Thursday to put a claim on Hamilton. Otherwise, he will be remanded to Albany.

Canes top Rangers in an action-packed game

On Tuesday night, Sean Avery and the New York Rangers came to town for a much anticipated game. Carolina was anxious to avenge their Boxing Day loss to the Rangers, and also to exact some revenge on Sean Avery and Colton Orr for their hits on Andrew Ladd and Matt Cullen, respectively.

I thought it might be physical, but I never imagined it would be anywhere near as violent as it was. Before the game even started, Scott Walker and Sean Avery were in a shoving match. The puck hadn't even been dropped, so both players should have been given misconduct penalties. However, the referees mysteriously gave out roughing penalties and nothing else.

Just a few seconds into the game Tim Gleason was penalized for hooking. On the ensuing 4-on-3 power play, Brendan Shanahan potted a goal at 1:02 of the first. Scott Gomez (down on the goal line) and Jaromir Jagr (in the right circle) played catch for a little while, then Gomez found Shanny in the slot for a nice-looking goal.

Wade Brookbank went toe-to-to with Colton Orr in round one of their two round bout. In the first round, Orr landed a couple of heavy shots that hurt Brookbank, then knocked him down. Round one was decisively Orr's.

Less than a minute after that, Scott Walker made a bad decision that caused all hell to break loose. He boarded Gomez (without getting called for it). Avery came from downtown Apex to go after Walker, then Timmay Gleason went after Avery. There was a lot of other pushing and shoving. Avery was given 17 minutes of penalties (2 for instigating plus five for fighting plus a ten minute misconduct). Walker got five for fighting, and Gleason was given the gate for being the third man in. At the time, I thought it was a really poor choice by Gleason.

Towards the end of the period, Orr and Brookbank went again. Round two was pretty much a wash, with a slight advantage to Brookbank. By the time the period was over, the Rangers had amassed 35 penalty minutes and the Canes had 31.

After they got all that Hanson Brothers stuff out of the way, the Canes settled down and played some "old-time hockey". It suits them much better to play their game than to try to be something they're not.

Sergei Samsonov got the Canes off and running at 6:07 of the second. After a badly missed shot by the Rangers, Ray Whitney was flying down the right wing on an odd man rush with Samsonov. He fed Sams with a nifty pass into the left circle, and Samsonov easily beat Lundqvist, who had overcommitted. It was Samsonov's eighth point (3/5) in nine games since joining the Canes.

Rod Brind'Amour put the Canes in front at 8:24 of the second. After the Rangers committed a sloppy turnover in the Canes end, Brind'Amour and Samsonov were off on a rush. Brindy skated it all the way in, made Lundqvist commit to Samsonov over on the left wing, then slammed it home for the lead. Mike Commodore picked up a phantom assist on the play.

There were just two penalty minutes per team in the second period. In the final minute of the period, the Rangers had some excellent scoring chances when Cam Ward lost his stick and they were able to keep it deep in the zone. Scott Gomez had a golden opportunity on an empty net with a stickless goaltender way out of position, but Nic Wallin and Glen Wesley both pinched in and held the left post. Wesley laid down to take away the shot, and Wallin was there anyway. It was a certain goal. 100%. Somehow, they couldn't hit the net, and the period ended 2-1.

Trevor Letowski notched an insurance tally at 3:40 of the third when Chad "Sharpie" LaRose hit him with a perfect pass through traffic to the high slot. "The Dude" wristed it in from there for his fourth marker of the season. LaRose and Bret Hedican got the assists.

Carolina committed two penalties in the final 75 seconds of the game. Since the Rangers pulled Lundbvist, they had a 6-on-3 situation for the final 20 seconds. During that final minute, and especially that final :20, Cam Ward made some sensational point-blank stops. Three of them in the last 12 seconds. He looked like the old Cam Ward out there. We haven't seen that in a while.

The "official" three stars went to Walker (third), Brind'Amour (second) and Ward (first). I'm not sure where the star for Walker came from. The RBH three stars:

THIRD STAR Nic Wallin, CAR -- 4 blocked shots
SECOND STAR Rod Brind'Amour, CAR -- GWG
FIRST STAR Cam Ward, CAR -- 34 saves, win

The news was even better, as Washington got blanked by Les Habitants, 4-0. That allowed Carolina to push their SE division lead to three points.

Carolina will host the Leafs on Thursday, then begin a five game road trip in the Iron City on Saturday.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Tonight the Rangers come back to town for a much anticipated 7:00 game.

The Canes haven't played in a week. I'm sure the guys are anxious to get back on the ice, and I know the fans are ready so see the boys again.

However, the restlessness has a little more to do with the Blueshirts than it has to do with the All-Star break. The last time these two teams squared off, Matt Cullen left the game with a concussion after a hard high hit from Colton Orr. Later in the game, Andrew Ladd suffered a broken orbital bone after he was sucker-punched by Sean Avery while the linesmen were restraining Ladd.

Carolina spent the better part of 05-06, the entirety of 06-07, and the first half of this season without an "enforcer", but that game changed it all. Wade Brookbank, the 6'4" 227 lb enforcer, was recalled from Albany the next day. Since then, he has made his presence known. He isn't getting much ice time, but his time is short and to the point.

Peter Laviolette is more concerned about getting the two standings points tonight and hasn't told his players to "even the score" or anything like that. According to LSB, he has expressly forbidden Andrew Ladd from fighting.
However, Brookbank is in the lineup, and Laviolette says the boys will be ready for whatever happens.

Defenseman Tim Gleason echoed the sentiment :
"We don’t want to focus on one particular person. We want to focus on beating them to pucks. If they want to goon it up, we have no problem doing that, but that’s not the way we play.

We’re just a hard-working team. When it comes down to it, if they want to get gritty, we’ll get gritty back.... If we have to muck it up, we’ll muck it up."

I won't be at the game. I'll be watching from home on Center Ice. I'm hoping that the RBC Center faithful give Sean Avery a not-so-warm welcome.

Secondary to all that piss and vinegar stuff, Eric Staal will be trying to beat his little brother Mark.

A tertiary rallying point is that Matt Cullen will be going against the team who never made him feel like he was a welcome addition to the team.

Although I would love to see Avery get his ass whipped, I'm not anticipating any fireworks. Just a good game.

In the near future, I plan to write a very boring piece about the naming rights of the NHL Arenas. Some of them aren't as funny as you think.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

East, Staal, win All-Star game

On Sunday night, the Eastern Conference won the All-Star game 8-7, and Eric Staal took home the MVP honors.

In the first period, Rick Nash scored against Rick DiPietro just 12 seconds in. Eric Staal scored one minute later, then the East got unanswered goals from Andrei Markov and Brian Campbell, who scored once each, and Alexander Ovechkin, who scored twice against Chris Osgood. The East had what looked like a commanding 5-2 lead. However, the West wasn't ready to throw in the towel.

In the second frame, the West got the only two goals when Rick Nash and Scott Niedermayer tallied against Tomas Vokoun.

The third was high-flying. The West got a goal from Ryan Getzlaf and Rick Nash completed his hat trick with a nifty breakaway where he backed in against Tim Thomas. Suddenly, the game was tied. The East got a goal against Manny Legace from Maid Marian Hossa on a beautiful give-and-go with Scott Gomez to retake the lead 6-5.
The West got two more unanswered goals from Dion Phaneuf and Marion Gaborik to take a 7-6 lead.
The East, however, would prevail. Eric Staal tied it and the former Thrasher Marc Savard got the game-winner at 19:39.

I thought the MVP could have gone to any number of players. Rick Nash had three goals. Alex Ovechkin had two goals. Brian Campbell had a goal and two assists. The Versus crew thought Evgeni Nabokov deserved MVP consideration for pitching a second period shutout, but he only faced eight shots. He made two remarkable saves against Ilya Kovalchuk, but aside from that, he didn't have to work at all.

Eric Staal had two goals and had an assist on the game-winner. He was given the MVP award and the keys to a car that he'll never drive.

I wasn't far off the mark with my 9-7 prediction, or with my Ovechkin as MVP prediction. It easily could have been. If he had scored an empty netter in the closing seconds, I would have been dead on.

All the All-Star game camaraderie will now come to a screeching halt. Guys from rival teams have been hanging out together and getting along with each other for the past couple of days, but now it is time for the regular season to recommence.

There is no better way for the hostilities to restart than a game with the Rangers. Carolina will have some business to finish with Messrs. Orr and Avery. Also, there will be the "brother against brother" Staal show. See the classic 1985 television commercial below for a nice blast from the past.

NHL "slam dunk competition" poorly executed

The NHL added a couple of new twists to the Skills Competition this year. The most anticipated was the "breakout" competition where the skater was supposed to show his creativity in a no-rules breakaway on the net. They marketed it as a "slam dunk competition", adding a panel of celebrity judges to rate the skaters on their creativity. We expected -- and saw -- some attempts at a "lacrosse-style" goal and a couple of other crazy things, but overall the event was a bust.

First of all, there wasn't that much creativity. The skaters could have started their attempt from anywhere on the ice. Behind the goal, coming out of the penalty box, diving through the slot. Anywhere. Every single one of them started from the center face off dot. A couple of guys tried, and failed, to pull off the lacrosse goal. For the most part, they were straightforward penalty shots. Boring. Skating in backwards? Please, don't insult me. Playing it off the skate blade? Yawn. For my money, only Alex Ovechkin with his baseball-style attempt was interesting. It was creative and exciting, even if he didn't succeed at making contact with the airborne puck.

Second, and perhaps most important, why in the world was the goaltender part of that? The NBA doesn't put a 7'2" defender in the lane during the slam dunk competition. MLB's homerun derby doesn't have guys trying to strike the batter out. Those exhibitions, and this one, are strictly about offense. It seems counter to the point of it all to have a goaltender there. Next year, I hope they remove the goaltender and also that the skaters are a little more prepared to be creative. Let's see some guys come out of the penalty box, bank it off the half-wall on the opposite wing, then make a crazy behind the back, between the legs shot from there. Let's see guys start behind the net, lob it over the net, then do the Alex Ovechkin baseball-style thing from the high slot. I'm just throwing stuff out there.

The regular game will be today at 6:00 on Versus. It should be a lot of fun. I'll stick with my prediction of 9-7 for the East. I'll also predict that Alex Ovechkin will be the MVP.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Matt Cullen's son, future NHLer.

Hurricanes center Matt Cullen and his wife Bridget have a toddler named Brooks. He just began walking. Cullen brought his son to the "Skate with the Canes" day at the RBC Center last week and had him on little skates. Here's the video:

This clip was labeled as "Skate with the Canes", but really it should be labeled "Matt Cullen gets the business from his teammates". Eric Staal, Cory Stillman and Craig Adams playfully give him the business. My favorite is the quote from CrAdams "I caught the tail end of it, but it's pretty clear that he's not a very good parent, and I thought I had to let him know that"

Also Eric Staal shouting "How can you put skates on him when he can't even walk?!"

Friday, January 25, 2008

NHL All Star Skills Competition

Saturday's portion of the All-Star weekend will feature the YoungStars game and the Super Skills competition.

As I already pointed out, there has been a slight overhaul to the skills competition. The "two-on-one breakout" is no longer part of it. That's been replaced with a different type of breakout situation. They've added a shootout-style competition. It should be a lot of fun. Also, a new edition is the obstacle course/relay race, which looks very interesting.

Everyone keeps referring to this shootout portion of the skills competition as a "slam-dunk style contest". Of course, that reminds me of this brilliant article from The Onion last year.
DALLAS—Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters Tuesday night that the addition of the first-ever slam-dunk contest to the NHL All-Star skills competition may have been "a big mistake." "Unfortunately, Jonathan Cheechoo severely injured his back and neck attempting his 360-degree, between-the-legs slam, and Sheldon Souray sliced Ryan Miller's back with his skate blade when he tried to hurdle over him to complete his dunk," said Bettman, who was initially angered when some of the biggest names in the NHL, notably Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, chose not to participate. "Joe Thornton is out for the season with multiple facial lacerations after his stick shattered the backboard, and Marian Hossa may have ended his career when he tried, and failed, to dunk from the blue line." According to Bettman, the most disappointing part of the dunk contest is that 5'10' Paul Kariya took 20 minutes to complete his rather marginal dunk and probably won the contest only because he was the shortest participant.

Every time I read it, I laugh just as hard as the first time.

In all seriousness, it should be an excellent show, and I'm very much looking forward to the entire weekend. Everything will be televised by Versus.

All Star weekend

The all-star break is upon us. This will give some players and teams some time to rest. The Hurricanes certainly need to mend themselves and find a way to right the ship. With 30 games to play, Carolina holds a very slim lead in the Southeast division. If they can come out of the break refreshed and invigorised, they should make the playoffs. Otherwise, it seems like the surging Capitals will win the SE and be its only representative in the playoffs.

The players have been told not to do anything hockey related until Monday. Eric Staal, of course, is already in Atlanta for the All-Star Game.

This year's All-Star game, plus the YoungStars game and the Skills Competition will be televised on Versus. The format will again be Eastern conference versus Western conference. The Superskills competition has been re-formatted, and looks to be very interesting. The fastest skater and hardest shot and shot accuracy competitions are still part of it, but they've included a cool obstacle course and a shootout. All the details are here.

The YoungStars game, which has usually been swept under the proverbial rug, will be a prominent feature this year, and will be televised. I don't remember that being the case in the past.

The YoungStars game and Superskills will be Saturday at 7:00 and the All-Star game will be Sunday at 6:00. I really enjoyed last year's coverage, including the excellent "mic'd up" stuff from Marty Turco. There will be more of that this year.

Versus has their web coverage here.

I can't stand watching the NFL Pro Bowl, but I always enjoy the NHL All-Star game. Obviously, there's not much hitting, and there'll be lots of scoring. I just like it because the players seem to be having a lot of fun, and we get to see the best talent in the game all at once. I predict Eric Staal and the East will win 9-7

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Carolina dies by their own power play

On Tuesday night, the Hurricanes had tons of power play opportunities against the visiting Islanders. Unfortunately, this actually was their demise in the game. They gave up three shorthanded goals in the game, including TWO ON THE SAME POWER PLAY!

If you give up a shorthanded goal, you deserve to lose the game. If you give up three, well, I just don't know.

There's no excuse at all for that kind of thing.

Carolina managed to register forty-some odd shots on goal. Whoopty doo. Three of them found the back of the net.

Despite stinking up their own barn, Carolina managed to fight and claw their way back into it, and were down by just one goal with about five minutes to play. A power play opportunity came up, and they were unable to cash in. Later, the Isles got an insurance marker, then later again they got an empty-net goal.

The final tally was 6-3, but Carolina had a couple of excellent chances to tie the game at four late in the third. They didn't deserve it, though.

Carolina won't play again until after the All-Star break, which means that Washington will use up some of its four games in hand. They presently sit four points behind Carolina in the Southeast division.

I imagine they will be working the power play units very hard in practice. Maybe they'll abandon the five-forward power play system.

Eric Staal will be in Atlanta playing in the ASG and participating in the skills competition. Last year, he crushed the accuracy contest.

The rest of the boys need to go somewhere and do something that has nothing to do with hockey. Something fun. After that, they need to have some very hard practices before resuming play on the 29th against the Rangers.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heath Ledger found dead in Sean Avery's girlfriend's apartment

Today, actor Heath Ledger was found dead in Mary-Kate Olsen's apartment. According to the New York Times:
(A housekeeper found) Mr. Ledger naked and unconscious on a bed, with pills scattered around his body.
Except that he wasn't exactly "unconscious".

The 28 year old film star is famous for his roles in "Brokeback Mountain" and "Monster's Ball". In 2005, he had a daughter with actress Michelle Williams. After a long engagement, the couple called it off late last year.

It is believed that Mary-Kate is in Califonia. As of right now, the police do not suspect foul play (read: Sean Avery), nor do they have any idea why he was in her apartment.

Wow. Just wow.

Apparently, Olsen and Avery are no longer dating. She's moved on to some NYC artist-type. In addition, an Olsen spokeswoman is denying that Mary-Kate owns the apartment, which rents for $23,000 a month. I would need about 40 roommates to be able to afford that.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Canes on a two game tear

On Monday afternoon, the Hurricanes overcame a 2-0 third period deficit to win 3-2 over the Islanders in overtime. Second period markers from Mike Commodore and Nic Wallin paved the way for overtime, then Cory Stillman struck in the bonus frame to give the Canes their (gasp) second straight win.

Of course the NHL.com headline indicated that it was the Islanders who won in overtime, but it wasn't so. It took them about five minutes to correct the mistake, but I caught it just in time.

When I was a kid, I was a huge UNC basketball fan. I was born in and spent the first 12 years of my life in Chapel Hill. My father went to school there, and he always hoped that I would follow suit. I didn't. Anyway, the point is that I was a big Tarheels fan. Whenever they would lose a close game, I would fantasize that the refs conferred after the game, changed the ruling of something, replayed the last few seconds and that Carolina had actually won.

Maybe this has something to do with the 1972 Olympic Basketball fiasco. Who knows. Anyway, I used to dream that I would read in the paper that the outcome was different than what I actually saw. This misprint made me think of those days.

I'll watch the game in its entirety later. For now, suffice to say that Andy Sutton handed the Canes the game on a silver platter when he cross-checked Rod Brind'Amour early in the overtime period. It took just 15 seconds with the man advantage for Carolina to cash in.

The two teams will fly to Raleigh tonight and run it back tomorrow night at the RBC Center.

Canes-Isles in a matinee

The Hurricanes and Islanders play an unusual weekday matinee today. Puck drop will be at 2:00. This is the front end of a back-to-back home-and-home. The teams will square off again tomorrow night in Raleigh.

Barring a last-second change of plans, Brandon Nolan will not be in the Hurricanes lineup and will not have the chance to play against his father.

In other news, Johnny Crackers Grahame has been place on re-entry waivers, which expire at noon today. Michael Leighton is expected to dress for the Canes even if Crackers clears.

In other other news, Erik Cole had to leave practice early on Sunday with what appeared to be a knee injury. The good news is that he's fine and will be in the lineup today.
Also, Trevor Letowski, who thought "for sure" he had broken his foot blocking a Sheldon Souray shot on Friday, is fine.

After so many injuries, it's nice to have dodged a couple of bullets.

Don't forget. Very early puck drop today. 2:00 today and 7:00 tomorrow.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Adams Family reunited again (sort of)

The "Adams Family" of Craig Adams and Kevyn Adams played together for almost five seasons in Carolina. They are not related to each other, nor are they related to TV's "The Addams Family". According to legend, Gomez Addams (two Ds) was born Adams (one D), but changed the spelling of his name to avoid confusion with "that other prominent Adams family" from which two US Presidents emerged.

During the abysmal 2006-07 season, Kevyn was traded to Poenix for Dennis Seidenberg. During this past summer, the Coyotes traded K-Ads to Chicago for Radim Vrbata, who is former teammate of Adams with the Hurricanes. One month into this season, Kevyn tore the ACL and the MCL in his left knee, and will most likely be out for the remainder of the season.

Craig Adams (aka "Hands of Feet") was drafted by the Whalers. He spent his entire career as property of the Hurricanes. There was a one month period in the summer of '05 when he was with the Ducks, but before the regular season began, he was traded back to Carolina. Last week, he was traded to the Blackhawks for "future considerations".

Kevyn Adams was a fan favorite. He took time for the kids, he worked really hard, and even though he was never the most productive, he was one of the hardest working guys. Craig Adams wasn't exactly a "fan favorite". He brought tenacity to the table, and would never hesitate to drop the mitts to protect his teammates. His skills were lacking, and he didn't have the Chad LaRose work ethic to make up for it. Still, he was a familiar fixture. People just accepted the fact that Craig Adams was a Hurricane and he was somewhat of a "company man".

Until last week.

Canes GM Jim Rutherford promised that he would shake up the team in an effort to get the ship headed in the right direction. Rumors were flying (and are still flying) that some of the big name players might be traded. I don't think that's in the works. Yet. He wants to scare the players into thinking that their jobs aren't secure. The demotion of John Grahame was meant to send a message. The trading of Adams was another message.

The Adams trade served two purposes. It said that not even a "company man" was safe. It also, as many are suspecting, was a gesture towards the Blackhawks for Sergei Samsonov. They are paying half of what's left on his salary, and the Canes are already getting better production out of him in six games than they did in half a season. I don't think there are any "future considerations", and that's fine.

So, Craig "Hands of Feet" Adams is playing the part of George Jones and Kevyn is playing the part of Tammy Wynette. They're, um.. "Together Again". Kevyn is done for the season, so they won't play together this season, but if they both stay next year, they might like their fourth line Adams Family.

On Friday night, I tuned in to watch some of the Blackhawks game against the Avalanche, just so I could see CrAdams in his new uniform. One of the first things I saw was him getting absolutely Phaneufed by Marek Svatos in the third period. Welcome to the Western Conference!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Canes crush Oil 7-2

On Friday night, the Hurricanes got a much needed convincing win over the visiting Oilers. After losing four in a row and seven of their last ten, they needed a win. The players needed it, the fans needed it. We all needed it.

The last time the Oilers came to town, I was in the RBC Center for game seven. At the end of it all, I cried like a little girl. Tonight, I cried again.
I'm not kidding.
It was a release of tension. With their poor play lately, I was on the brink of smashing my teevee or something else dumb. This big big win let it all out. It was great.

Carolina is almost to the point where all of their players are back from injuries and illness. Their absences had something to do with Carolina's poor play. Now their job will be to feed off of tonight's huge win and keep playing like they did.

The most important thing as far as the trajectory of the team is concerned is that Eric Staal found some swagger. He broke through with a HUGE game and played with confidence. Frankly, we haven't seen Staal or any of the big-name players display any confidence lately.

It all started at 6:08 of the first. Rod Brind'Amour nailed a one-timer from above the left circle and showed a rare display of emotion afterwards. Sergei Samsonov and Erik Cole got the assists.

Just 3:09 into the second period, Patrick Thoresen tapped a loose puck to make it 1-1. Sam Gagner's shot hit the right goalpost, then Cam Ward's back, then trickled towards the goal line. Thoresen pounced on it before Nic Wallin could sweep it away. Gagner and Andrew Cogliano got the helpers.

Tim Gleason blasted a shot from the right point at 15:43 of the second that found its way past Mathieu Garon. Brind'Amour and Andrew Ladd got the helpers. For the first time in a long time, there was actually some traffic in front. Ladd was setting a nice screen, and would have been all over any rebound situation.

This is how the second period ended. For the first time in I don't know how long, the Canes had a slim lead at the second intermission, and I had no worries. Somehow, I knew that they wouldn't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this time.

I had no way of knowing, and could never have imagined that they would explode for five goals in the third. It was that third frame where Staalsy found his groove. Hopefully, he'll stay on track.

At 4:13, Staal scored his first goal of the night. He attempted a shot from the left circle, which was stopped by Garon. Staal scooped up the rebound and attempted a wrap-around to the right post. Garon got a pad on it, but he was unable to get his left skate flush with the right post. Somehow, Staal found the tiny gap and muscled the third-chance into the goal. The goal was unassisted assisted by Chad LaRose and Gleason, and would prove to be the game-winner.

Midway through the second, the Canes were enjoying a power play when Staal was hauled down on a breakaway. He was awarded a penalty shot, which he wasted no time or effort burying into the net. He didn't use any fancy stickhandling or any dekes. Just a hard, authoritative shot from the high slot. 9:48 was the time of the power play penalty shot goal.

It was now 4-1, and this is where the wheels fell off for the Oil. Garon was visibly upset after the goal and was barking at the officials. Presumably, he was upset with the awarding of the penalty shot. No matter what it was, he was shaken, and he wasn't able to move on.

Two and a half minutes later, Sergei Samsonov finished a gorgeous tic-tac-toe play. Erik Cole created a turnover in neutral ice, then head-manned it to Brind'Amour, who in turn hit Samsonov streaking down the left wing. Garon committed to Brind'Amour and it was easy for Samsonov to finish the play into a pretty much vacant net. Officially, it was Samsonov from Brind'Amour and Cole at 12:16. It's Samsonov's second multi-point game since joining the Canes. He now has six (2/4) points in six games with his new team.

Before the goal could be announced in the arena, the Canes struck again. Matt Cullen's shot from low in the left circle was kicked out to the slot, where Chad "Sharpie" LaRose jumped on it and willed it into the goal. The time of this goal was 12:45 of the third and it was assisted by Cullen and Wade Brookbank. That was Brookbank's first point in a Carolina sweater.

At 14:08, Andrew Cogliano made it 6-2 when he banked a shot off Cam Ward and into the net. Gagner and Robert Nillson got the assists.

The best moment of the game came very late. Eric Staal came over the boards on a partial line change for the last shift of the game. He joined Sharpie on an odd-man rush. LaRose had a shooting lane from the left wing, but waited and waited, then passed to Staal at the right dot. Staal blasted it in from there to complete the hat trick at 19:40 of the third. LaRose and Bret Hedican got the assists.

Throughout this slump that the Canes are in, there has usually been one good thing that we could take away from each game. Tonight, everything was good. For the first time in a loooooong time, Carolina's best players played their best. All of them. They were all active and productive.

As the final horn sounded, I wrote my three stars exactly the way they ended up on the "official" three stars. Obviously, Staal was the first star. The official second star was Rod Brind'Amour and the third was Sergei Samsonov. On a night when seven goals were scored, and six guys had multi-point nights, it's hard to ignore the other guys. For example, look at Tim Gleason. He had a goal, an assist, four blocked shots, three hits and a +5 rating. Erik Cole had two assists and five hits. Sharpie had a goal and two assits. It's impossible to ignore all of that, but I'm still going with my original call, which is the same as the official three stars. The RBH three stars:

THIRD STAR Sergei Samsonov, CAR -- 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 takeaways
SECOND STAR Rod Brind'Amour, CAR -- 1 goal, 2 assists, 14 of 20 faceoff wins
FIRST STAR Eric Staal, CAR -- 3 goals, GWG

The news got even better, as Atlanta got smoked by Buffalo 10-1. The Carolina win and the Atlanta loss put Carolina back in first place. The thrash still have a game in hand, but for the time being, Carolina is still in first place with 50 points to Atlanta's 49.

Carolina will be off until Monday, when they'll begin a home-and-home with the Islanders.

off topic -- Bobby Fischer is dead

Bobby Fischer, the former World Chess champion has died. He was the only world champion from the United States. He was also a magnificent asshole. I hope he rots in hell.

Canes/Oil tonight

Tonight, the Oilers will be in Raleigh for the first time since June 19, 2006. That was, of course, the greatest moment in the history of the Whaler/Canes franchise. Right now, the Canes are about as far away from that high as they could possibly get. They have lost four in a row, seven of ten and they're mired in a morass of bad hockey, apathy and general malaise.

I can't provide any insight for tonight's game other than that Michael Leighton will be in goal.

For one of many excellent Edmonton viewpoints, visit Covered In Oil. There are a number of other fine Edmonton-themed blogs listed in my blogroll. Give them all a look.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Carolina drops fourth in a row

On Thursday night, Carolina lost its fourth game in a row and the seventh in their last ten. They went to Ottawa hoping to turn the ship around and climb back into first place in the Southeast. Unfortunately, they were going up against the best team in the Eastern Conference, and they continued to play like the worst team in the entire league.

The final tally was 5-1, but really it felt like 10-0.

Like a badly overmatched college basketball team, they took a lot of low percentage shots from long distance and bad angles. Their shot total was high, but like so many times this year, very few of their shots were quality. 99.44% of the time when you shoot the puck right at the crest on the goaltender's chest, it isn't going to find its way in the net.

Without any intention to discredit Ottawa, Carolina didn't play well. They haven't played well in a few weeks. Months, even. Their forechecking is non-existent, their backchecking a joke, their penalty killing dreadful, and so on. There is absolutely zero creativity in their playmaking and shot selection. The defensemen take too many stupid penalties. The goaltending hasn't been great, but more often than we'd like, the goaltender is hung out to dry.

Ray Whitney scored a five-on-three power play, which was the only thing remotely positive in this game. Carolina had thirtysomething shots, but probably 25 of those came from above the faceoff circles with no traffic in front.

Carolina will have a chance to end this horrible skid with a home game against the Oilers on Friday night. Edmonton played and won in Atlanta on in Washington Thursday, so neither team will be rested.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Carolina loses game, lead

On Tuesday night, Carolina and Toronto -- two teams headed in the wrong direction -- met, giving the Canes a perfect opportunity to right the ship. Unfortunately, they couldn't get the job done, losing 5-4 to the Leafs. Meanwhile, the Thrashers throttled the Red Wings 5-1.
The Carolina loss plus the Atlanta win means that both teams have 48 points in the standings. Since the Thrash have a game in hand, this puts them in first place in the Southeast Division. Put either of these teams in any other division, and they're bringing up the rear.

Tomas Kaberle (power play), Chad Kilger, Matt Stajan (power play), Alex Ponikarovsky and Ian White all scored for the Leafs. The Ponikarovsky goal was his first point since his colossal breakdown in Carolina last month which allowed Carolina back in the game instead of icing it

Sergei Samsonov (power play), Andrew Ladd, Erik Cole and Rod Brind'Amour all scored for the Hurricanes. The Samsonov goal was his first since joining the Canes four games ago. In fact, it was his first goal this season and the first in almost a full year. The little guy also added two assists, bringing his point total to four (1/3) in four games.

Erik Cole's goal was one of the prettiest I've seen it quite some time. He exploded through neutral ice, fought off two Leafs skaters using his speed and strength and beat Vesa Toskala easily for his 11th goal of the season.

This hasn't been the best season for Colesy, but he's looked really good in the last few games. Vintage Cole. He's finishing his chances, unlike earlier in the season when he'd make a weak shot on goal after some dazzling moves to create a breakaway.

There was a horrible, horrible officiating call in the third period which eventually led to the Ponikarovsky goal. Mats Sundin was entering the Carolina zone with some backchecking from Dennis Seidenberg. Sundin was tripped by the linesman, and it was clear as day, but Seidenberg's stick was in the vacinity, so he got called for tripping. Ponikarovsky scored one second after the penalty expired, but before Seidenberg could join the play.

Later in the third, Ian White was allowed to leave the penalty box six seconds early for some reason, and he played a key role in relieving the pressure the Canes were applying. That one didn't really matter, but I thought the "trip" to Seidenberg was absolutely horrible.

In the second period, the Canes were the benefactor of a questionable call when Toskala's stick got tangled up with Eric Staal. He was whistled for interference and the Canes scored on the ensuing power play. I think it was an iffy call, and it hurt the Leafs, but the Seidenberg thing was way beyond iffy.

Still, at the end of the day, it isn't the referees' fault that the Canes gave up five goals and scored one less than that. The goaltending has got to get better. The defense has to get a lot better. The forwards are getting better (and healthier).

Carolina, who has now lost three in a row and has fallen out of first place, will not find the road any easier to hoe going forward. They've got the Senators in Ottawa on Thursday.

Michael Leighton needs to learn to play deeper in the crease and to protect the posts better. The defensemen can't let the opposing skaters have free reign in front of and around the net.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

River Rats sign Phil Aucoin

There has been a whirlwind of call-ups and reassignments over the past few weeks between Carolina and its AHL affiliate, Albany River Rats. Both clubs are decimated with illness and injury, so the revolving door sends guys like Brandon Nolan and Keith Aucoin up and down depending on whether Carolina has an off day.

To ease some of this stress, the River Rats have signed two players to Professional Tryout Offers. These offers are usually made to ECHL players as a stop-gap measure for AHL clubs while the parent club uses its players. They are not NHL contracts and are usually temporary. One of the players receiving a PTO was Phil Aucoin, who is the younger brother of Keith Aucoin.

P. Aucoin joined the River Rats for their game last night, and did not register a point. The 5'10" left wing played NCAA Division III hockey at Norwich University, which is where Keith also played.

Make no mistake. These Aucoin brothers aren't the Staals. They aren't the Sutters. They aren't the Millers. They aren't the Howes. They aren't the Bures. The aren't the Primeaus, or even the Brookbanks. They're nowhere even close to any of these. Still, it's kinda neat to have two brothers with ties to the same organ-eye-zation.

Canes fall to Avs

On Saturday, the Hurricanes blew three separate two-goal leads against the Avalanche en route to losing their second straight game. The final tally was 5-4 Colorado. This was their fourth consecutive home loss and the seventh loss in the last ten games.

Because of the unbalanced schedule, the last time the Avs were in Raleigh was five years to the day. That was a 3-2 victory for Colorado with Milan Hejduk getting the winner in overtime.

This game started off well for the home team, but it did not end well.

Erik Cole scored his tenth goal of the season at 8:45 of the first. Sergei Samsonov made a wonderfully creative stretch pass, banking it off the right wing wall to spring Colesy on a breakaway. Cole drove hard to the left goal post, forcing José Théodore to overplay. At the last second, Cole tapped it back towards the right post and it crossed the line easily. It was Samsonov's first point in a Hurricanes sweater. Rod Brind'Amour picked up the secondary assist and reached the 1100 point plateau for his career.

Keith Aucoin, taking advantage of a flu- and injury- plague that has knocked NINE Hurricanes out of the lineup, scored his second goal in as many games at 18:01. His slapshot from the top of the right circle easily beat Captain Propecia. Tim Conboy, playing in his first NHL game, got the lone assist.

Earlier in the first, on Conboy's very first NHL shift, he fought with Scott Parker, who threw Conboy around like a rag doll.

Milan Hejduk, the one-time Rocket Richard winner, got the Avs on the board at 0:50 of the second. Andrew Brunette's wrap chance was foiled, but Hejduk was there to shove the rebound in from the doorstep. Paul Stastny got the secondary assist.

Chad "Sharpie" LaRose got his sixth goal of the season by picking up the loosed change of a Keith Aucoin shot from below the left circle. All he did was touch the loose puck as it was scooting along the goal line, but it looks like a one-timer in the box score. Mike Commodore, who also fought in the first period, picked up the secondary assist.

Carolina had three players well on their way to a Gordie Howe hat trick. In the end, none of them got it. Aucoin didn't have a fight and neither Commodore nor Conboy had a goal.

Carolina had restored their two goal lead, and things were still looking good.

Stastny narrowed the margin again with a goal at 10:02 of the second. He worked really hard to gather the rebound of a Jaro Hlinka shot from the right circle. Cam made a pad save, but sent it straight out in front. It kind of handcuffed Stastny, but he found a way to knock it in. Cody McLeod got the second assist.

Again, though, the Hurricanes were able to restore the two goal lead. Cory Stillman rifled a blast from above the right circle that surprised Théodore. Casey Borer got the primary assist and Cam Ward got the secondary. It came on a last-gasp effort with one second remaining in a power play.

The Stillman goal was an example of urgency. It was the first time in a long time I'd seen the boys displaying anything resembling urgency. I thought that it might be a huge confidence booster and perhaps a fulcrum for the season.

The period ended like that, and the first ten minutes of the final period. It looked like the Canes were going to seal it up and get going on the right foot again. That all came crashing down in a five minute sequence of the third.

Cody McLeod scored a wrap-around goal at 10:23, assisted by Cody McCormick and Jeff Finger. As was the case all night long, the Avalanche had bodies in front of the net and the Hurricanes were letting them do it. Frantisek Kaberle looked terrible on the play. He should have been covering the right post, which is where McCleod snuck in. Instead, he was busy screening Cam Ward. All five Hurricanes were overloading the left side of the ice while there were three white sweaters on the right side. It wasn't entirely Kaberle's fault, but he looked bad.

This time, the Canes were unable to restore the two-goal cushion. Marek Svatos banked a shot from the low slot off the post and in at 13:50. Tyler Arnason and Jordan Leopold assisted.

Two minutes later, at 15:57, Svatos notched the game winning goal. after a remarkably poor job by Eric Staal of holding the puck in the Colorado end and an even worse job of backchecking going the other way, the Avs entered the Carolina zone with a 3-on-2 rush. A shot came from the left circle, and Svatos was there to tip in the rebound. Arnason and Wojtek Wolski got the assists.

The Avalanche had scored three unanswered goals to take all of the wind out of Carolina's sails.

The "official" three stars went to Keith Aucoin (third), Paul Stastny (second) and Marek Svatos (first). I had it a little differently. The RBH three stars:
THIRD STAR Tyler Arnason, COL --- 2 assists, 2 takeaways
SECOND STAR Keith Aucoin, CAR --- 1 goal, 1 assist, +3
FIRST STAR Marek Svatos, COL --- 2 goals, GWG

Carolina has a couple of days off before they begin another Canadian road trip. They will visit the Leafs on Tuesday and the mighty Senators on Thursday before returning home for a date with the Oilers on Friday.

The last time the Canes had a streak of Canadian opponents on the road, they flourished. Unfortunately, there are no more visits to Montréal this season.

Friday, January 11, 2008

raleigh's battle of the badges

On Sunday at the RBC Center, the Hurricanes will be sponsorig the "Battle of the Badges". The Raleigh Police Department (and their ringers) will take on the Raleigh Fire Department (and their ringers) in an exhibition hockey game. The event is free to the public.

Here's a preview:

Donations will be taken, which will assist the UNC Burn Center for Children and the 200 Club of Wake County. The Burn Center is self-explanatory. The 200 club is an excellent organization that provides "immediate financial help for the spouse and children of police officers, sheriff deputies, firemen, EMS squad members and North Carolina State Highway Patrol serving in Wake County who lose their life in the line of duty."

This is the second year that the Hurricanes have sponsored the event. Chad "Sharpie" LaRose will be coaching the firemen, who won last year's contest 7-5. Justin "Viva" Williams will be coaching the policemen.

The event will start at 5:00 pm. Parking (in the East lot) and admission are free.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"THE game" on NHL Network tonight

The NHL Network will be airing "the game" on its HD Showcase program in the wee hours tonight. At 3:00am, they'll show game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final in HD glory.
I was there, so I got to see it in real definition, but the only video I've seen of it has been in standard definition.

They'll also air it at noon Friday.

This only applies to the United States. In Canada, a game between the Bruins and Canadiens will be aired in those slots.

Set your dvrs now. I am.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Canes shut out Bruins

Cam Ward returned to the nets after playing backup to Michael Leighton for the last two games. He hadn't seen any action since last Wednesday. If he developed any rust, he didn't show it. In the end, he earned a 1-0 shutout of the Bruins.

Earlier in the day, Carolina claimed Sergei Samsonov off waivers, and he was supposed to play on the third line. However, the Canes were forced to make a last second scratch of Ray Whitney. This elevated the newcomer to the top line with Rod Brind'Amour and Cory Stillman.

Whitney has the flu. So, too, does Glen Wesley. He was also a last-second scratch. The list of wounded and sick Hurricanes is getting kind of ridiculous. If not for the fact that Andrew Ladd and Nic Wallin both returned to the lineup tonight, they would have been short by a couple of guys.


Eric Staal nearly gave the Canes the lead with about four minutes to play in the opening stanza. However, Tim Thomas made a dazzling save. After making a stick save, he flashed his stick through the goal mouth to catch a fluttering puck just as it crossed the line. There was a brief video review, but even without it, it was easy to tell that the puck had not completely crossed the line.

The only other action in the first period was an early fight. Wade Brookbank keeps throwing down the mitts. I can't say that I like it, but he's letting other teams know that he's there.

Despite being outshot 8-4 in the first period, Carolina looked good. This was only the beginning.

In the second period, they looked fantastic. This is three or four games in a row where they've looked very good in the middle stanza. This is refreshing, because throughout November and December, they played horribly in the second period of every game. Carolina dominated play. They outshot the Bruins 17-6 and kept the puck in the Boston zone for the majority of the period.

Eric Staal had the game's only goal at 18:20 of the second. He and Nic Wallin ran a reverse behind the net, and Staalsy ended up firing a wrister from the right faceoff dot. Thomas was cheating on the short side, and the shot beat him low on the blocker side. Wallin and Chad LaRose had the assists.

Sergei Samsonov looked pretty damn good out there. He was unfamiliar with the plays that Carolina runs, and he was obviously unfamiliar with his new teammates. I don't think he even had a chance to practice with them. In the second period, he was flying. He had a few quality shots and had some great shifts. I think he'll be fine.

Both goaltenders had to make some fine stops down the stretch, but Cam Ward's save with about 30 seconds to go was the best. He had to explode from his left to right across the crease to make a nifty kick save, preserving the lead.

With 17 seconds to go, Wallin took a lazy tripping penalty, and the final few seconds were played six-on-four. Good stuff. Good stuff.

I like that Cam Ward responded to having the week off by pitching a shutout. I also like that for the third straight game, the Hurricanes killed all of their penalties. In this game, there were three, so they've now killed the last ten penalties in a row.

The three game road trip is done, and Carolina took four of six points. Not bad. Meanwhile, the Thrashers and Kitties both lost Tuesday night. Carolina's lead is now back up to five points over the Thrash and seven over the Cats.

Another bit of good news is that Eric Staal is continuing to play like he can. He looks like he's having fun again. He looks like he wants to take control of games again. I like it.

The "official" three stars went to Thomas (third), Ward (second) and Staal (first). Not a lot happened in this game, so I can't really argue with those. The RBH three stars:
THIRD STAR Tim Thomas, BOS -- 27 saves
SECOND STAR Cam Ward, CAR -- 19 saves, shutout

Carolina will return home for a two game stand. Thursday, they'll take on the Devils and Saturday they'll host the Avalanche

Canes claim Samsonov

On Tuesday, the Hurricanes made a move, just as we were warned they would. It was for a forward, just like we were warned. There could not have been adequate warning for the bombshell that was dropped when the team announced that it had claimed Sergei Samsonov on re-entry waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks.

I don't have interwebs at work, so when I need to keep my eye on a story , I depend upon either the ESPN crawl or on the mobile browser on my phone. I used my phone to check in on Lord Stanley's Blog, and my initial reaction was textbook nonplus.

We did...what??? Wait. What??

After a few moments of contemplation, I was bordering on disappointment. Yes. Disappointment.

After I had time to read up a little, my disappointment has settled a little, and I'm just a little skeptical. Part of the thing that made me feel disappointed is that Samsonov is under a $3.525M contract. He's extraordinarily overpaid. Of that, though, Carolina will only be responsible for about $800k. That's not so bad.

Samsonov once scored 75 (29/46) points for the Bruins, but that was seven years ago. In 2005-06, he scored 53 (23/30) with Boston and Edmonton.

The following season, he was picked up out of free agency by Montréal. He was a complete bust and a bit of a locker room problem there. This past summer, the Habs traded him to Chicago for Jassen Cullimore and Tony Salmonella (yes, I know his name is Salmelainin, but it's funnier this way).

This season, Samsonov has been completely invisible. In 23 games, he totaled just four assists to go with no goals and a -7 rating.

I guess there were no GMs willing to deal a top nine forward. I wasn't really expecting a "something for nothing" trade like they were talking, so this shouldn't be that surprising. JR likes the little guys, and I guess that Theo Fleury is too busy doing coke running a concrete business to lace 'em up again.

Samsonov has some of the things that work really well in the Carolina "system". He's small (5'8"), fast, creative. Finally, Chad LaRose will have somebody he can look down on. This must be the second happiest day of his life.

Unfortunately, Samsanov hasn't enjoyed any success in a while, and he might have forgotten. He'll also be the only Russian on a front line that is entirely North American. Off the top of my head, I can't remember the last time there was a Russian forward on this team. The last time they had a player from the former CCCP, it was Oleg Tverdovsky, and we just won't go there. Prior to that, the only other Soviet-born player I can remeber was Daniil Markov. We have fond memories of Danny, but mostly because he was the player who was traded to Philly for Viva.

Anyway, as odd as it sounds, this might have been the best option for this desperate team. They really need some help up front, and this isn't a terrible gamble. Just keep in mind that the Hurricanes' share is $800k.

Samsonov's flight to Boston was delayed, but he is expected to be with the team and in the lineup tonight. I suspect he'll be on the third line.

Hopefully, we'll see the Sergei Samsonov of 2001 rather than the Samsonov of 2006. If nothing else, he brings NHL experience to the table. Not many of the Albany call-ups would be able to bring that.

Samsonov will be wearing #14, which we will remember as being K-Ads' number, and the one that will eventually be worn by Brandon Sutter.

Like the rest of my fellow Canes bloggers, all I can do now is welcome Sergei to the family and wish him the best. Успехов!

Canes to make move today?

The word on the street is that the Hurricanes are going to make a move to add some NHL depth to their top nine forwards. Possibly today.
According to articles in the News & Observer, the idea is to deal off a "low-level prospect" or a draft pick in exchange for a top nine forward. I'm not sure that such a maneuver can be pulled off without giving up more than that, but the Canes are hurting bad up front and the time is nigh. Viva is done for the season and Matt Cullen is going to be a while before he's right.

Also, the Canes are indicating that they want to seriously go after a puck-moving defenseman in the trade market. One I've been buzzing about all along, J-M Liles, should be available at the deadline, and the Canes wouldn't have to give up much.

I can't even begin to predict any forwards who the Canes have on their list, but I imagine we might know in a few hours.

The Hurricanes will be playing the Bruins tonight, with or without a newcomer.

Monday, January 07, 2008

off topic -- national anthems

Okay, so here's a bit of a hot topic that I can sort of call "non-hockey related", but in the end I'll spin it back to hockey anyway. The singing of national anthems is something that people in the United States just don't take seriously. It's really unfortunate.

I got to thinking about this partly because my friend Bill encouraged me to "write something political on the blog". Maybe he meant the other blog, which has been overrun with cobwebs. The place could use a fresh coat of paint, and the lawn hasn't been mowed in who knows how long. It's too embarrassing to bring people over there. I digress...

As the two major American political parties begin sorting out their nominees for the Presidential election this November, there's been a lot of early name-calling and finger pointing within the parties. The topic for today is the singing of the National Anthem. Apparently, Democratic hopeful Barack Obama did not place his right hand over his heart at a recent function when "The Star Spangled Banner" was being played. There has been some bickering about whether etiquette dictates the placing of the hand over the heart (it does), and some erroneous claims that he doesn't do it because he's Muslim (he's not). People are calling him, among other things, "unpatriotic". Whatever. That isn't the point. Amidst all that, nobody's really talking about fellow Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton and her horrific display last year in Iowa. Before you click "play", please remove all pets and small children from the room. And brace yourself.

Is "horrible" the precise word I'm looking for? No. I think it's "revolting". Apparently, not only is she singing badly, but she messes up the words. She says "Oh say does our star-spangled banner...." when it's supposed to be "...that star-spangled banner." We're all adults here, and while most of us are probably pretty lousy singers, at least we know the words to our own National Anthem. Furthermore, I would guess that most of us know all of the words to both "The Star Spangled Banner" and "O Canada". I know I'm not alone when I stand and sing (or at least mumble) BOTH anthems at games.

On that note, I've often marveled at the way Canadians loudly and proudly sing their anthem, and the way they put Americans to shame in that regard. Just look at this, and you can't deny it:

In my research, however, I happened upon this amazing clip of some Swedes belting it out on Saturday for the blue and gold. I think they give Canada a run for the money:

Get with it, Americans.

Now, to be fair, "The Star Spangled Banner" is a ridiculously crafted song with a range of one and a half octaves. That makes it a very difficult to sing well, and I sincerely applaud anyone who can. The least we can do, though, is make an effort. Hopefully, we're better singers than Hillary, but even if we're not, we should still sing.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Steve Downie at it again

What will become of this latest misdeed by Steve Downie? On Saturday, early in the third period, the Flyers were leading the Leafs 2-0. A tussle was about to develop, but the linesmen separated and restrained Steve Downie and Jason Blake. Downie went ahead and punched Blake anyway, leaving a huge welt under his left eye.

Of course you remember that Steve Downie was the first of five Flyers this season to receive supplemental discipline from the league. He was suspended for 20 games during the preseason for his vicious hit on Dean McAmmond of the Senators.

After four other Flyers had committed transgressions, the league essentially told them to mind their Ps and Qs for the rest of the season. They were told that from here on in, they would be under close watch and that the coaches, general manager and the organ-eye-zation itself would be punished if they crossed the line again.

Is this "crossing the line"? Sure. One linesman had Jason Blake restrained. The other did a very sloppy job of trying to restrain Downie, and the waste of space threw what can only be construed as a sucker punch at Blake.

A week and a half ago, Sean Avery of the Rangers did a very similar thing to Andrew Ladd of the Canes. Ladd now has a broken orbital bone. Specifically, if you're scoring along at home, it was the zygomatic bone.

I was under the impression that there was an automatic one game suspension for such a thing, but Avery was given none.

Colin Campbell has made it perfectly clear that he didn't want to see any more monkey business from the Flyers.

Under other circumstances, this would be looked at by the league and there would be a maximum of one game suspension. However, this might be different. Given that it was this particular player on this particular team, we might see something more severe. This player has already shown a propensity for reckless play. The team has been warned about patterns.

I'm usually wrong about these things, but I'll guess that Downie will get a three game suspension by the league and that the team will give him a one-way ticket across the parking lot to the Phantoms facility. I'm guessing that nothing will happen to John Stevens or Paul Holmgren, but that Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman will say something like: "We warned you about reckless play from your players, and one of them has done it again. We're not happy about it, but we can't hold you responsible for the actions of one player. However, we're totally not kidding. Next time, we'll make you sit in the corner for five minutes."

We'll probably find out sometime late Monday or early Tuesday.

What do you think will happen?

Carolina shut out by Blues

On Saturday night, the Hurricanes were in the show-me state hoping to pick up two points in an out-of-conference game against the Blues. They ran into a hot goaltender in Emmanuel Legace and they left with nothing.
Fortunately for the Canes, Florida got shut out by the red-hot Penguins, so they didn't lose any of their slim lead.
Right now, the Thrashers are ahead of the Sabres. If it ends like that, it isn't good news for the Canes, who are just five points ahead in the SE. After today, the Thrashers will have one game in hand and the Kitties will have two. Meanwhile, the Capitals are lurking in the shadows. They're sitting at 39 points, just seven back of the Canes. They also have two games in hand.

It's becoming clear, even at this relatively early stage, that there will be no wildcard playoff berths from the SE division. If the playoffs started today, the entire Atlantic Division would go, the top two from the Northeast would go, and the Canes would go.

As for Saturday's game, I was a little surprised that Michael Leighton got the start on back-to-back nights, but he played really well and proved that it was a good call to start him.

Buffalonian and Ivy League product Lee Stempniak scored at 12:49 of the first. It would prove to be the game-winning goal. Former Sabre Jay McKee worked behind the Carolina net, then found Stempniak on the doorstep. McKee made a beautiful pass, and Stempniak just tipped it in. It wasn't the prettiest goal in the world, but McKee worked hard to make it happen. Ryan Johnson got the secondary assist.

Carolina had ample scoring chances, but the former Red Wing answered the call every time. On the other end, Leighton wasn't very busy. He only saw 19 shots for the entire game.

What it came down to was that Legace was their best player. He needed to be. In a post-game interview with the FSN South crew, he kept emphasizing that the Blues are short on talent and that they need to work extra hard. They did, and he does. As a team, they blocked 14 shots, and they won 56% of the faceoffs against a Carolina team that normally dominates that category.

Legace shut out the Red Wings on New Year's Eve. Then, on Wednesday, he had one period of perfect relief against the Oilers. Going back to December 28, he has gone 143 minutes and change without giving up a goal. I'd say he should be in the running for the NHL Player of the Week.

The "official" three stars went to Johnson (third), McKee (second) and Legace (first). Legace is a no-brainer. I'm not sure that I agree with the rest. McKee's play to set up Stempniak was awesome, but I just don't see why Johnson is named. While Leighton deserves some mention, and Chad LaRose had a great night, I don't think any of the Canes are worthy of three stars.
Barrett Jackman, in his first game back from a concussion, had a fantastic game for the Blues. He had six hits and three blocked shots. He definitely deserves mention. In the low scoring game, Stempniak has to be given the nod, too. The RBH three stars:
THIRD STAR Lee Stempniak, STL --- GWG
SECOND STAR Barret Jackman, STL --- 6 hits, 3 blocked shots
FIRST STAR Manny Legace, STL --- 27 saves, shutout win

After the game, Legace gave an interview for FSN South, and it was one of the better ones I've seen all season. He seemed really genuine about everything, was very grateful and friendly. He came off like a really cool guy. There was, though, one odd moment when he and Tripp Tracy (who are apparently friends in real life) were in conversation and Tripp said "I hope you'll give me a few strokes." I hope he meant that they're golfing together.

The Canes are off until Tuesday, when they'll be in Boston. There's a possibility that Andrew Ladd and Nic Wallin will be back.

Speaking of Andrew Ladd, it seems that Flyers bad boy Steve Downie is at it again. Just a few games after his suspension ended, he has committed another transgression. This time, he went all Sean Avery on the Leafs' Jason Blake. While the linesmen were restraining Blake, Downie punched him in the eye. We'll see what happens. Avery was not suspended despite the fact that there's a provision for an automatic one game suspension. The league is investigating, and I don't think they'll go lightly on Downie. They have been told that they're being watched. We'll see how serious Colin Campbell is about what he said last time.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Canes avenge Wednesday's loss, expand lead in SE

On Wednesday evening, Carolina entered the front end of a home-and-home with the Thrashers. These two crucial division matchups had eight standings points on the line. At the start of it all, Carolina had 43 points in first place. Atlanta had 39, in second. If Atlanta had won both games in regulation, the two teams would have been tied in the standings. If Carolina had won both in regulation, they would have had an eight point lead. By the time the dust settled, Carolina had a net gain of one standings point. Not the optimal outcome, but a good one nonetheless.

Carolina had to fight and claw for one standings point on Wednesday in a 5-4 overtime loss. Friday was another hard-fought game, but Carolina emerged with a 4-3 regulation win. With 46 points, they're five ahead of both Florida and Atlanta. Florida has two games in hand; Atlanta has one game in hand.

After calling goaltender Michael Leighton from Albany, they gave the 26-year old the start right away. He got off to an unfortunate start when the Thrashers scored on their first shot, just 32 seconds into the game. Tobias Enstrom fired a shot from the top of the left circle which was tipped down low by former Hurricane Mark Recchi. Leighton didn't have a chance. Nobody would have. As Luke Decock brilliantly put it:
"Michael Leighton gave up a goal on the first shot he faced, but blaming him is kind of like arresting someone run over by a taxicab for interfering with interstate commerce."
Officially, Todd White had the first assist and Enstrom the secondary. I didn't see it ping-pong that much, but the only thing that really matters is that the Thrash scored.

Mark Recchi is officially en fuego. The Penguins summarily dismissed him after he produced just eight points (2/6) in 19 games with them. Since joining the Thrashers, all he's done is score 12 (6/6) points in 12 games. Included are two consecutive two point nights against the Hurricanes.

After scoring what was perhaps the goal of the season on Wednesday, Ilya Kovalchuk was held goalless on Friday. He did, however, play a pivotal role in the Thrashers' second goal. He fired a shot from the left circle that caught Mike Commodore on the boot, bringing him to his knees. The puck went right back to Kovi, who shot again from the right circle. It filtered through heavy traffic, and Todd White was there to stuff in the rebound from close range. White from Kovalchuk and Recchi at 12:15. The Thrash were off to a 2-0 lead, and it looked like it was going to be a rout. Fortunately, Leighton and the Canes settled down.

For the second period, the Canes and Thrashers swapped color commentators. Darren Eliot, who worked with John Forslund on the Versus broadcast on Wednesday, rejoined him for what they called "Behind Enemy Lines". I kind of enjoyed it. I'd love to have heard what sort of nonsense Tripp Tracy forced Thrashers fans to hear, but Eliot was very good.

As the Thrashers had done in the first period, the Canes scored early in the second. Ray Whitney jumped on the rebound of a wrap chance by Eric Staal and fired it in from the high slot. Darren Eliot perfectly described it as a "fade-away jump shot". Officially, it was Whitney from Staal and Mike Commodore at 0:27 of the second.

The Hurricanes made a mistake on an early power play, and it gave the Thrashers a 3-1 lead. Some sloppy passing led to a two-on-one shorthanded breakaway and a goal. Jeff Hamilton was the only guy back to challenge Eric Perrin and Pascal Dupuis. Hambone did the best he could, but after he slid to take away the shot, Perrin fed it to Dupuis on the left side of the slot for an easy goal. It was the ninth shorty of the season for the Thrash, and eight of them have been assisted by Perrin. He said that his time in Tampa alongside Vinny Lecavalier helped him look for the shorthanded odd-man rush.

Later, during the same power play sequence, Carolina got the goal back, and there was something slightly poetic about how it went down. Pascal Dupuis broke his stick deep in the Thrashers zone. He couldn't go fetch another, so he was forced to play stickless, giving the Canes a 5-on-3.5 advantage. They used great puck rotation to open up a shot by Hamilton from the top of the right circle. It clanged off the right post and in the goal to bring the Canes to within a goal. Eric Staal was given credit for a re-direct down low, so it was his 22nd goal of the season. The power play goal came at 14:53, assisted by Hamilton and newcomer Casey Borer.

Borer, who impressed the coaches and fans in training camp, was playing in his second NHL game. He picked up an assist on the Staal goal, but his night wasn't about to end. While the Hurricanes were enjoying another power play, Borer fired a shot from the left point that went off a post and in. The official time of the goal was 16:35, which means that it was an even strength goal. It looked to me like 16:34. Normally, one second wouldn't mean anything unless it was the end of a period. However, this one second was the difference between an even strength marker which helps Borer's +/- rating and a power play goal which helps Carolina's PP efficiency. Either way, it was the young defenseman's first NHL goal. Keith Aucoin and Cory Stillman assisted.

The third period was filled with lots of great saves by both goaltenders, and it was starting to look like it would go to an extra frame for the second time in as many games. That was, of course, until the Thrashers committed late penalties.

Ken Klee caught Eric Staal with an inadvertent high stick at 12:45 of the third, but it ended up being a double minor because Staal was cut. I've never been a fan of that rule, but since it benefited the Canes, I'll take it. Just a couple of minutes later, at 15:12, Bobby Holik was penalized for clearing the puck over the glass from his own end. This is another penalty that I don't love, but in this case, it looked intentional, and I'm fine with penalizing intentional delay of game.

Carolina had about a minute and a half of five-on-three and a golden opportunity to take the lead. Instead of capitalizing on the huge amount of white ice they were going to have, they shrunk the ice, working from the circles in. Kari Lehtonen came way out to challenge a Ray Whitney shot from the right circle. The rebound was headed for the corner, but Cory Stillman was camped out by the left post. He pounced on the rebound and shoved it into the empty cage behind the Finnish goaltender. Officially, it was Stillman from Whitney and Staal. The game ended this way, and the Stillman goal proved to be the game winner.

As en fuego as Mark Recchi is, so is Eric Staal. The fourth year player has 13 (7/6) points in his last 10 games and is re-emerging as the Canes best player and an elite NHL player.

I would say that the River Rats call-up acquitted themselves quite well. Aucoin had an assist, Borer had a goal and an assist. Both players finished with a +1 rating. Michael Leighton got the win in his Carolina debut. Borer was given lots of ice time, and in crucial moments of the game. He played on both special teams units and looked very comfortable out there. His 19:05 of ice time was third among defensemen.

The "official" three stars went to Cory Stillman (third), Todd White (second) and Ray Whitney (first). I can't agree with that assessment at all. The RBH three stars:

THIRD STAR Casey Borer, CAR -- 1 goal, 1 assist
SECOND STAR Mark Recchi, ATL -- 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 takeaways
FIRST STAR Eric Staal, CAR -- 1 goal, 2 assists

Officially, Carolina converted two of eight power play chances, which is good. Realistically, the Borer goal should have been marked as a power play goal, which would mean Carolina's success would have been 3/8. Any team in the league will take that any night of the week. More importantly, Carolina managed to play a game without giving up a power play goal. For the first time in what seems like forever, they killed all of their penalties. Unfortunately, they let in another shorty. The one on Friday was the seventh they've surrendered this season. That's the second most in the league. The Senators have yet to surrender one.

Carolina will stay on the road tonight, with an 8:30 (eastern) game against the Blues. Cam Ward will likely get the start.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Jeff Hamilton racking up frequent flyer miles

Jeff Hamilton started this season with a bang. He amassed 12 points in the first 14 games. He's slowed down considerably since then. He's now gone 17 games without a point. He's been in the lineup most nights, but he hasn't produced much lately.

Except a baby.

Early this morning, Jeff's wife gave birth to a baby boy. He went through a whirlwind of flights to be in Raleigh with his wife, then rejoin the team for tonight's game.

Here's the story about how he flew with the team to Atlanta on Thursday, only to immediately fly back to Raleigh. The baby came at 7:20 this morning, then he flew back to Atlanta. The proud and tired pop will be in the lineup for the visitors tonight.

“I got a half-hour of sleep on a hospital futon, but it was worth every minute of it,” Hamilton said.

Leighton to get trial by fire

Goaltender Michael Leighton was called up from Albany on Thursday. John "Crackers" Grahame, who has won a Stanley Cup, was sent down. Before Leighton even gets a chance to learn everyone's name, he'll be put to the test. He'll be starting in nets tonight when the Canes are in Atlanta

Leighton has been, simply put, killing it in Albany. He has five shutouts this season to go with an impressive GAA of 2.14 and a save percentage of .928. Although his record is a very mediocre 13-14-2, the rest of his numbers are quite good.

Leighton has appeared in 47 NHL games, mostly with the horrible 2003-04 Chicago Blackhawks who only won 20 games all season. He has an unimpressive 10-23-10 record, a GAA of 3.69 and a save percentage of .882. These are hardly "good" numbers, but we think that he's grown a lot in the AHL and is finally ready for the NHL. There's little doubt that he could be worse than Crackers, so there isn't really anything to lose here.

Leighton will be wearing #49 for the boys in white. We're all wishing him the best.

In a related story, Crackers has cleared waivers, been assigned to Albany, and will possibly get the start tonight against the Syracuse Crunch.

Looking at tonight's starting lineup for the Canes, five started the season in Albany. Keith Aucoin will be the third line center, Brandon Nolan will be the fourth line right wing, Casey Borer will be the third pairing right defenseman, and Michael Leighton will be the netminder. The fifth guy is Wade Brookbank. He's a defenseman, but he'll be the fourth line left wing tonight.

Defensemen David Tanabe, Bret Hedican and Nic Wallin are out of action. Also, forwards Scott Walker, Matt Cullen, Andrew Ladd and Justin Williams will be in the press box. An analyst for the Thrashers radio network reported that these wounded guys have a collective 3,774 games of NHL experience. Luke's story on this can be found here.

Leighton will be put to the test against some of the greatest skaters in the league. Ilya Kovalchuk is enough of a headache, but there will also be Maid Marian Hossa.

Puck drop is at 7:30 tonight. During the second period, the Thrashers and the Canes will swap tv color men. Thrashers fans will have to put up with the ridiculous commentary of Tripp Tracy. Good luck with that.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Crackers waived, Leighton called.

On Thursday, the Hurricanes placed Matt Cullen (concussion), David Tanabe (concussion) and Scott Walker (knee) on the injured reserve list. They have recalled forwards Keith Aucoin and Brandon Nolan from Albany. More on that here.

Aucoin has two assists in six games of NHL action this season, and Nolan has one assist in two games.

They made another, much more newsworthy move this morning when they waived struggling goaltender John Crackers Grahame and called Michael Leighton up.
Leighton had a really good training camp here and has been crushing it in Albany. He's been the best goaltender in the entire AHL, posting five shutouts, a GAA of 2.14 and a save percentage of .928.

Contrary to what I have suggested on this page and in some of my spoken commentary, Leighton DOES NOT have to clear re-entry waivers. He makes $100k at the AHL level, which exempts him from re-entry waivers. Here's some information about re-entry waivers as per the new CBA. Thanks to Luke's article for the tip.

I never liked Grahame, and I'm not sad that he's on waivers. I'm excited that Leighton is getting a shot.

Carolina loses game, Ladd, Walker

On Wednesday night, the Hurricanes played a gritty game against the Thrashers which resulted in a 5-4 overtime loss. There were some good things and some bad things. Then the injuries.

Carolina converted two of seven power play chances. This is a good thing. Eric Staal and Erik Cole each notched power play tallies. These guys need to be Carolina's best players, and they were both good on Wednesday. Just not good enough.

The bad and the ugly was that Carolina's penalty kill, already the worst in the league, got worse. The Canes only committed two penalties during the game, and they surrendered two power play goals. This is completely unacceptable. Maid Marian Hossa's game winning power play goal in overtime was a case of too much time and space. It was an easy goal. However, Ilya Kovalchuk scored the goal of the night. Perhaps the goal of the month. While on the power play, he took the puck coast to coast and beat Cam Ward very easily with a phenomenal and beautiful individual effort. He's leading the league with 33 goals, and this one was a textbook example of "highlight reel goal". I'm still kinda dazed by it.

The good things are that Erik Cole scored a goal at home. It was the first time he's done that all season. Eric Staal continued to pour on the points. His two points on the game put him at 37 (21/16) for the season. He won't finish anywhere near the 100 (45/55) that he had in the year of the Cup, but he's continuing to play at an elite level. He's got 10 (6/4) points in his last 9 games, which is more like the Eric Staal that we know than the guy who went four game pointless streak and a six game goalless streak in November.

Andrew Ladd had surgery today for his eye. He'll be out for a couple of weeks. The Canes were already looking like a MASH unit, but when you add Ladd and Scott Walker (7-10 games, knee) to the already big list, they look awful. Carolina should be making a few callups from Albany. I imagine Nolan will be recalled along with Ryan Bayda. Or Keith Aucoin. For more on the injuries, read Luke's article in the N&O.

In Wednesday's game, Carolina also got even strength goals from Andrew Ladd and Ray Whitney. They had to battle back from down 3-1, and 4-3 to force overtime. They should feel good about accomplishing something on the power play. They should feel good about finding something when their backs were against the wall. They should feel horrible about the penalty kill. They should feel horrible about committing a penalty in overtime. Cam Ward should feel awful about giving up five goals on just 14 shots. They should not have lost this game, but they did. The one standings point shouldn't be a consolation, but rather a scarlet letter.

The same two teams will kick it in the Philips Place Arena on Friday night. There will be a lot of different faces on the Carolina bench, including goaltender Michael Leighton, who has been called up from Albany following the waiving of Johnny Crackers


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