Taking penalty after inconveniently-timed penalty, head-faking an offseason pick-up after ten games, going winless on the road, sending opponents to the hospital on stretchers and earning suspensions and league wide ire – is that what this new, tougher Hurricanes team is all about?
At first, it seemed like growing pains. One got the sneaking suspicion that this team was actually very good, but was still getting its sea legs. However, ten games into the season, it might be time to start worrying.
The overtime game-winner in the Minnesota game seemed to say it all. After Joni Pitkanen took a penalty with less than two minutes left and the game slipping into overtime, the ‘Canes allowed Greg Zanon to walk in unchecked. Cam Ward came lurching out of the net, ready to make a spectacular save and keep the ‘Canes in it, as he is wont to do. Niclas Wallin missed his mark completely and watched as Cal Clutterbuck easily tucked the puck into the vacated net. Another point, gift-wrapped.
The ‘Canes have won two games so far and neither have come on the road. Carolina hasn’t discriminated – it lost to the second-worst team in the league, the New York Islanders, in a shootout and the best team in the Western Conference, the Colorado Avalanche, on the same road trip. Despite this, it walked away with two of a possible eight points on that road trip due to a handful of overtime losses.
In addition, yesterday the team announced that it had waived newly signed center Stephane Yelle. Yelle hasn’t made any great offensive contributions and has taken several undisciplined penalties, but he hasn’t tried to take somebody’s face off (too soon?) This looks like a wake-up attempt. Yelle is a steal and could be picked up by another team, in which case Brandon Sutter will try NHL break-out, take two. He was summoned before Minnesota and played a solid game, and from the sounds of it he seems to be settling in after a “stellar” training camp, which pretty much equates to “kicking some major padded booty during the Prospects tournament.” Instead of watching a one-year free agent signee in the twilight of his career lug himself around and waste minutes, the ‘Canes could now cultivate a talent they believe will be a major part of its future. Of course, they tried this once already and it didn’t work out, so stick around, Stephane. According to Branecky, he’s still practicing with the team until he’s reassigned or picked up. Awkward…
And of course, the hit that rocked poor Darcy Tucker's world. This was a split decision because you got the feeling he didn’t mean to hit him with his back turned (not defending the hit in the slightest, but hello, editorializing!) knowing what who and what kind of player Ruutu is, but he obviously didn’t let up. It was probably one of those seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time scenarios, then look down and have your mind slowly fill with horror. The good news is, he’s weally, weeeally sowwy, saying “I wish I could get it back” upon returning to Raleigh and saying he and Tucker have made amends. Tucker is out indefinitely and Ruutu isn’t eligible to play until Sunday against San Jose.
Another curiosity was all the mud-slinging that occurred afterward. Ruutu was accused of being a dirty player with a "reputation," even though this is his first suspension and his record is relatively clean. I have to wonder whether Ruutu has earned a bad rep due to antics of his boot-stomping, finger-chomping big brother...
Just a few days later, it was announced that this offering was not suspension-worthy…so you just never know. One man’s trash is another man’s “unfortunate” set of circumstances.
So what are the ‘Canes doing wrong? As previously mentioned, penalties have played a big role. Though the penalty killers are clicking, they should have to, at least not this often. So much time down a man means less time for the scorers to go to work, but for some reason the offense has come alive over the past few games, particularly against Colorado, and have inspired a few multi-goal comebacks. This being said, some players are still being too cutesy. Matt Cullen has scored two awful, fantastic goals banked off the opposing defense or goaltender, and those are the kind of bounces that can get a team back on the right track.
However, outscoring is a problem because the team is still allowing too many goals. A beat-up defensive unit and too much reliance on Joe Corvo, who, last I checked, is second in the league in ice time per game, could be to blame. The ‘Canes have allowed a lot of garbage goals because they couldn’t seem to get it out of their own zone. Maybe a shake-up is warranted here too – or just telling Andrew Alberts to hang back and keep his arms and sticks at his sides. He’s not exactly a speed demon and these minor penalties are getting tedious.
So…offense not playing to potential. Defense continually caught with its pants down. Who else can we blame? Cam Ward – you’re cool. No grievances as of this point.
So the State Fair road trip, during which the ‘Canes set a team mark last year, turned out to be a big pile of fail. But eight of their next 12 games are at home, so there’s time to right the ship. But the way things are going, it could be a long season.