Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 10/07/10 at 08:52 PM ET
The first game of the 2010-11 National Hockey League season was played in Helsinki this afternoon, and the Carolina Hurricanes emerged with a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild. The same two teams will go at it again on Friday at noon, with Carolina playing the role of “home” team.
Carolina had about 375 fans make the trip from Raleigh to Finland with the team, which is more than were in the Greensboro Coliseum some nights when the Hurricanes played two seasons here.
Brandon Sutter, who had a great sophomore season last year, potted two goals including the game winner. The other stars of the game were the Hurricanes power play and specifically the mindset of the defensemen.
The Wild got on the board first and Guillaume Latendresse was the guy with the very first goal of the 2010-11 season. At 3:33 of the first, he deposited the puck in the net from the bottom of the slot after a sloppy defensive play by the Canes. Mikko Koivu, one of three Finns on the Wild wend behind Cam Ward’s net, taking Carolina’s Anton Babchuk with him. With no other defenseman paying attention, Latendresse was all alone out front. Tuomo Ruutu did his best to help out, but his diving effort was too late. It looked like this goal was going to hold up heading into the first intermission, but Carolina played the whole period. This is something that they didn’t do at the start of last season, so I’m pleased with that.
Brandon Sutter, who scored 21 last season, got his first and the team’s first at 19:50, with Minnesota’s Cam Barker in the box for interference. Last season’s Canes would have taken it easy for the rest of the period and waited for the fresh sheet of ice in the second, but these Canes went to work immediately, and they did it in a fashion that was never seen last season. They put bodies in front of the net. Instead of bombing away from the blue line, they moved the puck down low. Jamie McBain moved it cross-ice to Jussi Jokinen at the left dot, who made a quick and perfect pass to the big Sutter on the doorstep. All he had to do was tap it in. The power play goal gave Carolina some momentum heading into the locker room and some confidence for their specialty teams.
Anton Babchuk, the giant Ukrainian, gave the Canes a 2-1 lead at 5:58 of the second and with that goal he reminded Canes fans of why Jim Rutherford was so eager to get him back for a third tour of duty. The kid has crazy offensive skills. In the past, the coaches encouraged Babs to fire away from the point, but not much else. This season, they’ve encouraged him to join the rush. On this play, defenseman Tim Gleason and winger Chad LaRose were running the points with Babchuk down below the circles. Erik Cole fanned on a shot attempt, but the puck found its way to Babchuk’s stick, and he pitchforked it in for the go-ahead goal. 2008 second round draft pick Zac Dalpe, playing in his first NHL game, got the secondary assist on the play.
Carolina’s blue line is full of offensive minded players, and I think we’ll see this kind of thing a lot this season. Forwards running the point while the likes of Babchuk and McBain join the rush down low. In this case, Chad LaRose is very responsible defensively, and more than capable of preventing a breakout the other way. It makes more sense to have the size and strength of Babchuk down low.
That lead only lasted a few minutes before former Hurricane and Minnesota native Matt Cullen got the equaliser. After Tim Gleason went to the box for cross-checking, the Wild went to work on their power play. Carolina’s Joe Corvo made a turnover in his own end. Minnesota’s Martin Havlat found the loose puck in the low slot and put one right on Cam Ward. The lively rebound went back out to Cullen at the same spot, and he wristed it past Ward at 9:52.
Just 37 seconds later, the Wild began a parade to the penalty box. Cam Barker for holding at 10:29 and the goal scorer Matt Cullen for slashing at 10:39. Carolina used 37 seconds of the ensuing five-on-three sequence to gain the lead for good. Jussi Jokinen put a wrist shot on net from the right circle at 11:16, and it trickled through the forest of legs and past Minnesota goaltender Nik Backstrom. It may or may not have deflected off a Wild player’s leg, but the credit went to Carolina’s #36. The defensemen Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkanen got the helpers.
Things got quiet for a little while, but Carolina added to their lead late in the middle stanza. Brandon Sutter got his second goal at 18:03. On what looked like a harmless rush, Pat Dwyer shot one on Backstrom from the right dot. It wasn’t a hard shot, but the Finnish netminder gave up a juicy rebound to Brandon Sutter, who was crashing the net. He didn’t get his stick on it, but it deflected off his skate boot and in for a legal goal. Once again, this net-crashing approach isn’t something that Canes fans got to see very much of last season. It’s a very refreshing and exciting change.
Not much happened in the third, but Carolina committed three penalties to none by the Wild. The last of these was a holding penalty to defenseman Jamie McBain with less than five minutes to play. Things became a little tense when the Wild cashed in on this.
Brent Burns gave the Wild life at 16:39 with a wrist shot from the top of the left circle. There was some contact in front of Cam Ward that made it difficult for him to play the puck, but there definitely wasn’t interference. Antti Miettinen and Cullen were credited with the assists.
Just a moment later, with a faceoff deep in the Carolina end and Minnesota goaltender Backstrom lifted for the extra attacker, disaster nearly struck the Canes. Brandon Sutter won the crucial draw to Tim Gleason. The defenseman wheeled around at the bottom of the circle and meant to rifle it around the boards behind Cam Ward’s net. Scarily, it clanged off the left post and out. The Canes couldn’t score on the empty net, but they managed to keep the puck out of their own net, too.
After one game, there are a good bit of good things to be taken from this. Most importantly, the whole concept of crashing the net. They don’t all have to be pretty goals, and it’s good to see the Canes coaching staff embrace that idea. I also lurve the idea of using Anton Babchuk as a makeshift forward. As long as there’s a defensively responsible forward on the ice to cover the vacant point, I’m all for it.
Same two teams same time Friday. For the time being, Carolina is in first place and Brandon Sutter is leading the Rocket Richard race.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.