After a smarting defeat on Thursday in which Carolina carried a one-goal lead into the third period and then allowed the Pittsburgh Penguins to pull ahead with two goals in 32 seconds, the Hurricanes will try to patch up their defensive play and move on in time for tonight’s game in Long Island. Sidney Crosby and Ruslan Fedotenko scored in a rapid-fire manner and turned what looked like a sure thing into a scary situation. Max Talbot added another goal and Evgeni Malkin potted an empty-netter, sending the ‘Canes home miserable and igniting a flurry of “what went wrong?” discussion. What did go wrong? (Where to begin.) Michael Leighton stood on his head once again and kept the ‘Canes in the game, but the ‘Canes were outshot and out-chanced. The team pressed too far in, creating numerous odd-man rushes for their opponent – something that they could not afford to do against a team like Pittsburgh. Yet again, for many stretches of play, the team looked slow and sloppy while the Pens danced in circles around them. It was a miracle that the lead held up as long as it did.
The one bright spot in the game was the Hurricanes’ lone goal, provided by rookie Brandon Sutter. The goal was an unassisted stunner; Sutter picked off a Brooks Orpik pass and skated in alone, slipping the puck behind a surprised Marc-Andre Fleury. As predicted by yours truly, Pens forward Jordan Staal brought his best effort of the young season and was rewarded with an assist on the second Pittsburgh goal.
The good news is that they still have time to make up for it. With 3 games remaining in this crucial road swing, the Hurricanes are 1-1-1 going into tonight’s match-up against the New York Islanders, a team that the ‘Canes should theoretically be able to handle. The Islanders are last in the talent-laden Atlantic Conference and have a record of 2-4. The team’s only two victories came against the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, who have only two wins between them on the season. Former 'Cane Doug Weight is currently tied for the lead in points on the Islanders squad with six. The game begins at 7 p.m. Eastern time.
First off, who is this scoring machine named Niclas Wallin, and where did he come from?
Oh, that’s right. He’s been on the team for eight years, but he has only decided to dazzle us with his dormant offensive ability in the last few games.
Wallin is playing like his job is on the line – and who knows, it could be? With he and Frank Kaberle (who fractured his leg in the Los Angeles game, yowch) possibly on the trading block, Wallin, who normally saves his scoring touch for overtime in the playoffs, is now second on the team in point totals. He has two assists in each of the last two games, which may not seem like a lot, but check this out – the only other time he tallied two assists in one game was in his rookie season, in early 2001.
Since it’s early, there are no ruffled feathers yet, but Peter Laviolette is opting to go with backup Michael Leighton over Cam Ward for the second straight game. Ward has been shaky in his first four games, and has amassed a save percentage of .891 and a not-so-stellar 3.30 goals-against average. Laviolette has a habit of going with the hot goaltender, and this isn’t a slight at Ward, who the ‘Canes believe is their No.1 guy…but it should wake Mr. Conn Smyth up, at the very least. Who knows? Maybe they’ll play it like they did in ’05 and let Leighton play consistent hockey through the 70-odd games left in the regular season, then let Ward take over in the playoffs, where he is seemingly more comfortable. This is unlikely, but fun to think about.
Lastly: the game at hand. The ‘Canes finished the California swing of their road trip 1-0-1, but now they must face last years’ Stanley Cup runners-up. The Hurricanes won last year’s series against the Pens 2-1-1, but this is an entirely different squad. The Penguins traded away Erik Christensen and Colby Armstrong (he of the nasty Trevor Letowski hit – good thing Trevor’s not around to collect damages) and lost Georges Laraque, Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone and Jarko Ruutu to free agency, and signed Hal Gill, Matt Cooke, Ruslan Fedotanko and Miroslav Satan and bruiser Eric Godard to fill in the gaps. Even though they lost those big names, the Penguins are off to a good start, going 4-2-1. Aside from Leighton, which is a certainty, it’s anybody’s guess who will play for the ‘Canes tonight or what the lines will look like. Tuomo Ruutu is still fighting injuries and will not play, and Kaberle is out for 2-4 weeks. Boychuk returned to his junior team, as expected. The ‘Canes have been shuffling their lines of late for more balanced scoring, but expect to see Laviolette dress seven defensemen tonight, as the ‘Canes haven’t called anyone up.
In addition, we get to see the first Staal brothers match-up of the young season tonight when Eric and Jordan face each other. Hopefully for the Pens, some good-natured competition will shake little brother out of his poor start to the season – Jordan has two assists and is minus-2. Here’s an article NHL.com ran today about the family ties that bind.
Standing on the sideline at Wallace Wade stadium Saturday, I watched Miami’s Matt Bosher get off the best punt I have ever seen, a booming 76-yard kick in the third quarter that left the 32, 011 on hand for the game momentarily silent and the Blue Devil return men scrambling to catch up as the ball sailed overhead. Coach David Cutcliffe would later call this the play of the day. And while it’s unusual for a punt to be singled out in such a way, it wasn’t at all surprising.
Prior to Bosher’s kick, the game was Duke’s. Deft play-calling and solid rushing by committee members Jackson, Harris and Hollingsworth had given the normally slow-starting Blue Devils an early lead. Led by Mike Tauiliili, the front seven had managed to keep Miami’s youngish but potent offense playing on their heels. But then Bosher tilted the field in the Hurricanes favor, pinning the Blue Devils on their own 11 yard line. It would not tilt back.
Duke’s O sputtered on the ensuing drive. Six plays later, Miami took the lead on a six yard TD pass by precocious redshirt freshman quarterback Jacory Harris. And thus the rout began.
The 49-31 loss leaves Duke with a record of 3-3 heading into next week's game against Vanderbilt, a team that seems to be staging their own football renaissance. Conference wise, Duke is now 1-2, which is good enough at this point in the season to join the Wolfpack and the Tar Heels in the ACC cellar. So given that, what do we think of the Blue Devils? Much of what I’ve written in this space has been an attempt to determine what progress looks like for a program like Duke’s. Six games in to the season, I’m not any closer to doing so than when I started.
To be sure, Duke lost this game. A second half chocked full of costly penalties, missed opportunities and dropped passes doomed them, making this perhaps more troubling than beatdown by Georgia Tech. There Duke lost by virtue of the athleticism gap. On Saturday, the team simply unraveled against an ACC rival that was ripe for an upset. That does not bode well, which is not to say that the season is lost, I mean, I'll bury no body before its time, but whatever momentum Duke had following its win against Virginia is at this point a memory. And, as previously stated, there are no more gimmes left on the Blue Devil's schedule.
What does progress look like for this long beleaguered program? I’m still not sure, the expectations keep on moving. What's more, this is but the first year of the David Cutcliffe era. But if the team is to retain the attention of its fledging fan base, if the new coaching staff hopes to attract the caliber of talent that will enable the Blue Devils to beat teams that are actually worth a damn, than it’s going to need to show some, and soon.
A day after their first team practice, and a week before facing Virginia Union in the season opener at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke hosted a highly competitive "Blue and White" scrimmage before a near-capacity Cameron crowd. The intra-squad match-up featured two 15-minute second-half scenarios, which included subs, inbound passes and a persistent full-court press.
There were no uncontested shots, and players were not shy about blocking teammates who took too long to shoot, or fouling them hard on breakaways. Players fought through picks, big men dove for loose balls-and, in the case of Martynas Pocius, the junior swingman practiced his best Reggie Miller impression, flopping to draw the foul on a three-point shot. (Yes, there were free throws.) This was not your typical crowd-pleaser exhibition.
Last night's deciding Game Seven of the ALCS Championship Series had the crisp, taut feel of classic October baseball. Both teams' starters pitched well, especially the Rays' Matt Garza. (Garza was acquired in the trade that sent former Bulls' malcontent Delmon Young to Minnesota.) In the eighth inning, Tampa manager Joe Maddon started playing the bullpen-matchup game, and I was telling a friend of mine that one of the few holes in the Rays' roster was at the spot where an intimidating late-inning reliever should be -- someone who could come in and throw flaming daggers. Since veteran closer Troy Percival went down with a season-ending inury, the Tampa relief corps has comprised crafty soft-tossers, reliable LOOGys, and other late-model hatchbacks. In the post-season, though, you need a dominant, bat-missing power pitcher. A Mustang. A Ferrari.
The thought flitted across my mind that Tampa did indeed have such a pitcher: David Price.
There are a few oddball preferences that showed up in the Hurricanes’ personal info section, on the website and in the media guide.
Tuomo Ruutu lists his favorite food as reindeer and mashed potatoes, a Finnish dish. (Yum?)
Ray Whitney, who clearly had fun with his interview, said the most played song on his iPOD is “Oh Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble” by Mac Davis. Fitting, for a man who can’t stop making faces the camera during other players’ pre-game interviews.
Moscow native Sergei Samsonov’s first hockey team, at age 6, was sponsored by the Red Army. I’m sure we can’t even imagine what those practices were like.
Gone, but not forgotten – several ‘Canes players listed Erik Cole as their favorite former teammate, including Joe Corvo, who played with Cole for less than two months. This goes to show what a positive impact Cole has had on the team and its fans.
In further proof that hockey players are just like us, goaltender Michael Leighton listed his favorite thing about playing professional hockey as “all the naps.” Forget the multi-million dollar contracts, the frequent flyer miles, and the celebrity status…Leighton just wants to catch some shut-eye.
Scott Walker’s first job was at McDonald’s.
The Hurricanes have a few things to work on: namely, getting a lead and keeping it.
Carolina earned one point in the standings but dropped the first game in a 6-game swing that will take the team to Anaheim, Pittsburgh, New York, Montreal, and St. Louis. The Hurricanes scored three goals in quick succession in the second period, but allowed the Kings to climb back into the game. Michal Handzus scored his second goal with 1:79 left in overtime to give Los Angeles the win. The Kings went to 2-2 and the ‘Canes dropped to 2-1-1.
Cam Ward looked shaky early in net for his third straight start, allowing Handzus’ first goal just 56 seconds into the game. The Hurricanes have not scored first in any of their four games this season.
Zach Boychuk suited up for his first NHL game, becoming the first Hurricanes player since Eric Staal in 2003 to play for the team in his draft year. He started out on a line with Rod Brind’Amour, logging 9:21 of ice time and recording 4 hits.
Ryan Bayda, Dan LaCouture, and Matt Cullen scored the Hurricanes’ goals within a span of 6:20 in the second period, and defenseman Niclas Wallin added two assists, good for second star honors. However, the Kings’ Dustin Brown scored a minute later and star center Anze Kopitar tallied his first of the season to tie it up midway through the third.
Close your eyes, plug your ears, and hum “Everything is Alright” if you hate bad news. Good? Okay. Red-hot defenseman Frank Kaberle, who had 3 assists in 3 games before tonight’s game, left after blocking a shot by Kyle Quincey in the second period and didn’t return. The ‘Canes have not yet made an announcement regarding the severity of Kaberle’s injury.
This one has to sting, as the ‘Canes were on the receiving end of a come-from-behind victory for the first time after handing Florida and Tampa Bay consecutive losses in that fashion. The team will have some practice time in California before facing off against Anaheim, who shut out the Sharks for its first win of the young season earlier tonight, on Sunday night at 8 p.m.
On the local, less important scale, Rutherford is once again dropping trade hints. A trade is currently in the works, according to Paul Branecky, the ‘Canes webmaster.
To sum up Rutherford’s statements, the team is currently carrying too many defensemen, and if one more forwards succumbs to injury, the ‘Canes are in serious trouble. Signing a free agent that is still floating out there quasi-NHL Never-Never Land would be ideal, but the ‘Canes don’t have the cap
space to do so. Frantisek Kaberle, whose production has dropped steeply in recent years, has been rumored to go – the offensive-minded defenseman did not record a single goal in 80 games last year. However, his excellent early play this season may have put him off Rutherford’s radar. The less famous of the two Kaberle brothers, (younger brother Tomas commandeers the power play for Toronto) Frank has recorded three assists in three games; it took him 11 games to reach the same marker last year. Aside from his newly inspired play, there is another factor that could keep Kaberle in Raleigh: few teams would be willing to touch his $2.2 million contract, and he’s signed for an additional year. Golden oldie Niclas Wallin is making slightly less than Kaberle, but is also signed for next year and has the added benefit of a no-trade clause. If Wallin refuses to waive it – which he has done adamantly in the past – then that's it. Plus, would they do that to Wallin, who has been with the organization since, oh, forever?
The rest of Carolina’s defensemen (with the exception of Gleason, Corvo, and Pitkanen, who are presumably off-limits) aren’t earning much, but if they were packaged together, they might become more appetizing. In addition, a few minor leaguers might be included as the pretty bow on top. However, Rutherford needs to free up a little cap space, so in the recent wake of the Cole trade, look for another ‘Cane favorite to depart the Triangle soon. Maybe not too soon, but soon.
Alexei Cherepanov, a 19-year-old top prospect for the New York Rangers, passed away on Oct. 13, and the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death have become a hot-button topic around the globe.
Cherepanov, nicknamed the “Siberian Express” by the press, played for Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. As a rookie, he broke the rookie scoring record, previously held by Pavel Bure, and was selected 17th overall later that year by the New York Rangers – although he was ranked higher going into a draft, many teams feared that there would be future contract disputes with the Russian Hockey Federation. The Rangers took the chance and Cherepanov didn’t disappoint, scoring 28 points in 15 games the following season. He had one year on remaining on his contract with Omsk, and was expected to join the NHL next season.
Jaromir Jagr, a former NHL star who captained the Rangers last year, played on Avangard Omsk with Cherepanov and served as the young man’s mentor.
“It is very painful for me to talk about it,” Jagr told Czech publication MF DNES. “It’s terrible. I’m in a state of shock. We were very close.”
Jagr was reportedly sitting on the bench and joking with Cherepanov during a game against Vityaz Chekhov in the Czech Republic, when Cherepanov suddenly buckled. He regained consciousness and was brought to the locker room, but lapsed again and could not be revived.
“Everything happened so suddenly,” Jagr said. “Lesha left the ice, sat on the bench. And died.”
Looking for a pro soccer gig next year? The ’Hawks are having open tryouts Dec. 13-14 at WakeMed Soccer Park.
The date provides a deadline for the hiring of a new coach, and the team confirmed that it plans to have one in place by then. Immediately following the team's open tryouts, the ’Hawks staff will head to Charleston, S.C. for the USL’s league scouting combine, set to take place Dec. 14-16.
Last year, Richard Perdomo, Brian Levey, Chris Lemons and Nathan Zuzga earned spots on the team via the tryouts.
Space is limited to 50 participants and the cost is $95. To apply, visit www.carolinarailhawks.com.