Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 11/15/09 at 09:04 PM ET
On Sunday, the Hurricanes finally ended their horrific 14-game winless streak. It wasn’t the prettiest win in the world, but since there’s no column in the standings for “ugly win”, we’ll chalk it up in the “W” column. Twice, the Canes had three goal leads in the second period. With 6:15 to play in the second, the Canes had a 4-1 lead, but the next eight minutes of gameplay were a train wreck. Fortunately, the Canes emerged out of the shootout with a win, and a tremendous weight was lifted off of the RBC Center. The kind of weight that’s lifted only when one’s career depends on it.
The weight was lifted off the players, the fans, the PA announcer, the hot dog vendors, the organist, and just about anybody who has any connection to this team. The celebration on the ice and in the stands was sort of like the ones we’ve seen after winning playoff series, and at this point, it feels about the same.
While I made an oblique reference to indie rock just then, there’s probably some truth to the bit about “even if your (cheap) career depended on it”. Michael Leighton was given a shot in nets today, and it may well have been a last chance scenario for him. When Cam Ward is healthy, Leighton is reduced to spot starts, and he’s only started one other game this season. He’s appeared in three games, including replacement duty two times. To tell the truth, he hasn’t looked that good. Despite the objection of many Canes fans, he’s looked apprehensive and unprepared when he’s been called upon. He’s played the puck (and played it badly) too frequently, he’s come too far out of net too frequently, he’s had poor rebound control, and he’s had difficulty communicating with his defense. In fairness to him, he’s had some poor defensive coverage in front of him at times, and he’s been forced to work harder than he should, but his biggest weaknesses are that he hasn’t yet learned how to use his size, and he hasn’t learned how to recover from mistakes.
The theory is that if he faltered today, it might have been it for him in terms of getting starts. While Manny Legace hasn’t been all that great, he at least plays like an NHL goaltender. Sometimes. Michael Leighton is a great AHL goaltender, but frankly, we haven’t seen it at this level. Today, he hit a rough patch late in the second and early in the third, but he hung in there, and got the job done by slamming the door in the shootout. Good on him for getting the win. Good on him for protecting his career.
While there’s an urge to say “this was a wild game”, I’ll resist the pun and say that it was a heck of a roller coaster ride.
Decked in their alternate black unis, the Canes came out of the gates really strong. Jussi Jokinen banged in a bouncing puck at 2:45 of the first and the Canes were, as John Forslund would have said, “off and running”. After an icing call against the Wild put the faceoff deep in the Minnesota zone, Tuomo Ruutu’s shot was deflected into the low slot, where Jokinen jumped on it and punched it past Backstrom. Matt Cullen got the secondary assist.
Joe Corvo has a beast of a righthanded shot from the left point, and he had the chance to let one rip at 17:49 of the first. With Tuomo Ruutu creating traffic out front, Corvo’s shot found its way into the net for a power play marker and a 2-0 lead. Bryan Rodney and Ray Whitney got the helpers.
The Wizard added to Carolina’s lead at 4:59 of the second, and it looked like the beat was on. His shot from the top of the left circle went in cleanly for another power play goal. Brandon Sutter got one helper and Joe Corvo got the other. Again, Tuomo Ruutu created havoc in front of the net, screening Backstrom.
Antti Miettinen broke up Leighton’s shutout bid at 8:43 of the second with a tip-in of a Brent Burns one-time blast from the blue line. Andrew Brunette got the secondary helper.
Brandon Sutter, who has been Carolina’s best player of late, made a nifty move in the low slot and made the game 4-1 at 10:08. Ray Whitney picked up his third point (1/2) of the game on the play with a beautiful pass. Sutter was awarded the game’s third star, but I don’t think anyone would have argued if he had been named first star.
4-1, things were looking fantastic. All they had to do was hang on for 30 minutes, and they would be over the slump. However, the Canes were bitten by their most frequent bug, and things quickly got really tense. Robert Earl scored his first NHL goal at 13:46. This is one recurring theme with the Canes this season, but the fact that defenseman John Scott scored his first NHL goal just 20 seconds later is the more worrying matter. This has happened at least six times this season. Two goals in a span of less than 30 seconds. And seriously, Scott has to be the tenth guy to get his first NHL goal against the Canes this season.
The rest of the second was an exercise in holding our breath. All of us in the arena were thinking “here we go again”, wondering when the equalizer would come. The boys spent the rest of the period on their heels and narrowly escaped the period, clinging to a 4-3 lead.
The third opened badly. The Canes were still on their heels, and the Wild started to apply pressure deep in the Carolina zone. Two minute into the period, in a span of 17 seconds, Carolina iced the puck three times. The Wild brought fresh legs, but the Canes had to keep their tired ones. It finally bore fruit, and Robert Earl got the equalizer at 2:21.
Luckily, the Canes settled down and got out of their own zone and out of their own heads. The rest of the period was scoreless, but the Canes managed to get some quality chances. Nothing was solved, and we had free hockey.
In the extra frame, the Canes looked like they really wanted it. Brandon Sutter had one fantastic scoring chance and one fantastic defensive play, and neither resulted in a goal. So we went to the much maligned shootout.
Four of the six shooters in the shootout were Finns, and you could probably guess which one scored. Jussi Jokinen, who always shoots second, beat Backstrom for the only successful shot of the shootout, and the Canes picked up their first win since October 9. Jokinen has now converted 25 of 45 shootout attempts in his career, including three of four this season.
During the game, the Hurricanes lost the services of defenseman Joni Pitkänen to a “lower body” (NOT knee) injury. They also lost Scott Walker to an unknown injury. Lastly, they lost Stephane Yelle to a knee injury. I didn’t notice what happened to Pitkänen or Walker, but Yelle laid down to block a shot late in the third, and took it right on the left knee. All of this means that Tim Conboy, who is pretty much useless, will have to suit up for Carolina’s next game.
Carolina will take their one game winning streak and their two game points streak on the road to Montréal, where they will be in action on Tuesday night. Historically, the Canes have had success at Molson/Bell Centre.
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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.