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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

‘Canes’ changing of the guard produces first road win

Posted by on Tue, Dec 8, 2009 at 12:05 AM

click to enlarge Captain Rod Brind'Amour served as a healthy scratch against Pittsburgh after a career's worth of injuries caught up with him. File photo by Dreier Carr, IndyWeekBlogs
  • Captain Rod Brind'Amour served as a healthy scratch against Pittsburgh after a career's worth of injuries caught up with him. File photo by Dreier Carr, IndyWeekBlogs

With more offensive bodies healthy than needed for a change, Carolina needed to kick someone to the curb – er – press box. Instead of sitting signee-that-didn’t-work-out Stephane Yelle, who has already been waived and passed over this season, or perhaps Scott Walker, who has been invisible on the ice these days (he wound up playing under seven minutes tonight,) who did the ‘Canes brass decide was expendable?

Yep. Oh captain, their captain, Rod Brind’Amour.

It isn’t often that an NHL team will sit its captain, even when he isn’t playing well. It’s a matter of respect and fear of upsetting chemistry. It also seems like it would send all sorts of mixed messages. But you know what? It worked. Carolina won its first game on the road over two months after the start of the season against defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh.

This move has been needed for a long time and it’s good to see that they finally had the stones to do it. Brind’Amour has passed the twilight of his career – he’s in statistic quicksand right now, having held on far past his expiration date. It’s almost painful seeing him go up and down the ice these days, and he’s a liability on and off the puck.

Eight points in 28 games and a team-worst -19 are the best way to back that assessment up. He’s still pretty good in the faceoff circle and clocks in at over 60 percent in his last seven games, but his ice time has dwindled. A lot of that isn’t his fault – this team has played horribly for the most part. But when you’re stuck in a bad season, your weaknesses tend to be more glaring obvious.

These aren’t words anyone wants to read after Brind’Amour did so much for this franchise, but few can go through so much physical strain and play to 40 years of age. That is an incredible accomplishment, but you have to know when to hang ‘em up. That probably should have been this summer, in retrospect. Brind’Amour has turned into that elder statesman at the office that was around when your boss’s old boss was around. He doesn’t actually do much, but people take comfort in looking at him from time to time and remembering “the good old days.” He also has this sort of unspoken tenure, and everyone just seems to be waiting around nervously for them to give the okay so they can bring out the napkins, streamers and “Bon Voyage” cake.

He probably won't go anywhere at the trade deadline. He's won his cup and there can't be too many teams interested in a player who exudes enough strong, silent leadership to spare but can't keep up with the play. Now the ‘Canes just have to survive the rest of his career so they can loft the pre-ordered No. 17 banner to the rafters and hand the “C” off to Eric Staal (or perhaps the even more deserving Ray Whitney.) And if some of that time is spent on the sidelines? Well…judging by tonight’s effort, that might not be such a bad thing.

In addition, Jim Rutherford showed which way he was leaning in the goaltending situation. With Cam Ward nearing a return and too many goaltenders limping around, Rutherford put Leighton on waivers today. He can either be picked up, reassigned or held on to, but this gives Rutherford a little more time to figure out what to do with him. Poor Leighton has had absolutely horrible luck in a Carolina uniform, so while I do feel for him, it’s hard to argue against going with the hot hand. Last year, he was stuck playing second fiddle to a dominating Ward and everyone was too scared to throw off his groove to give him even a few nights off. This year, when Ward went down and Leighton finally got his chance to shine, he was felled by a groin injury. Legace swooped in to steal his spot. Yowch.

But even though it will be more expensive to assign Leighton than Legace, who has a two-way contract, Rutherford seems to have more confidence in the newbie than the backup who might have just blown his last shot.

But now, finally, back to the game. Carolina almost threw it away yet again after getting the first three goals of the game. Alberts got his first of the year at a weird angle and Jokinen dodged his cover and put his shootout moves on Marc-Andre Fleury later in the period. After Ray Whitney scored in the second, the Penguins tallied twice in one minute and Legace had to hold tight to make that narrow lead stick for another period and a half for a final score of 3-2.

Blocked shots were the story of the story of the game as Carolina cut the shots Legace faced by 17. Joni Pitkanen had a crucial (/barely legal) one in the waning seconds of the game to keep it out of overtime.

In addition, the call-ups performed admirably and ate up plenty of minutes. Brett Carson had 17:26 in his NHL season debut and Jay Harrison amassed 15:33.

So the Hurricanes finally got their first win on the road in impressive fashion over a much more confident Pittsburgh team and have won two in a row. This team has me completely bewildered. But things won’t get any easier as they face down Martin Brodeur on Wednesday, who will be looking for his league record 104th career shutout against visiting Carolina. Brodeur tied Terry Sawchuk’s record of 103 earlier tonight.

Should management keep the good times rolling and sit Brind’Amour again against New Jersey? Take it out on the comment box.

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