After dumping Boychuk – well, fine, trying to send him back to Charlotte and seeing him claimed by the Penguins instead, woe be upon us – and calling up Nodl, the Hurricanes are looking to plug a hole in their rapidly sinking ship. Is that too dramatic? PROBABLY. Is it the party line I’m sticking with? You bet. The truth is, the Canes have failed utterly to live up to expectations thus far, going 2-3-0 and at times looking like a bigger collection of failures and wannabe-AHLers than such illustrious teams as the Columbus Blue Jackets and the New York Islanders. There’s plenty of time for the word of the season to be something other than “disappointment”, but right now, “disappointment” is warring with “exasperation” is duking it out with “cynicism” is lying in bed with “fatigue”. Canes fans are large and contain multitudes.
Anyway: the game. I will confess I had to look up how the Senators are doing, both because I have been Not Plugged In as of late and because the Senators are one of those teams who are regularly passed over by the media even when they’re doing really well. You can’t say they’ve been passed over completely in this young season, as goalie Craig Anderson was the NHL’s first star for January, but they’re currently even in points with the Bruins, and yet not being talked about half as much (in my neck of the woods, anyway; I’m sure it’s different north of the border).
So that’s a long rambling way of saying I just had to do some reading on how things are hanging in Ottawa. Not bad, it turns out. 11 points with a record of 5-1-1, One of the Senators’ heavyweights, Jason Spezza, is out with “minor” back surgery (in other news, I heard an Ottawa man “slightly” died yesterday). They’re still not exactly lacking, though, with reigning Norris winner Erik Karlsson leading the defense – probably literally, into the Canes’ zone – and Daniel Alfredsson still keeping up last year’s solid play. Long story short, are the Canes going to be playing a Cup contender? Nah. But they are going to be playing a solid team, and that’s the kind of thing the Canes have had trouble with lately. See: Boston, the Panthers.
As for the Hurricanes themselves: if my diatribe above didn’t convince you, I’ll just outright say now that I think the Hurricanes have some serious choking problems. This is hardly news; even newer fans like me remember their excellent choke job to the Lightning two years ago, cementing that they wouldn’t get into the playoffs. When the Hurricanes need to perform, often as not, they don’t show up or show up and play like they’re blindfolded. If this continues to be a pattern, then Canes fans could be looking at a team that can’t pull their heads out of their nethers in time to make the playoffs, much less win the division.
Pessimism aside, if the Canes pull it all together, there’s no reason they can’t win this game. Expecting every game to look like the first Buffalo game is expecting way, way too much; Buffalo came out flat and the Canes were having an unusually good night. But if the game looks like the second Buffalo game, or the second period in the Bruins game, the Canes should at least do respectably enough to pull out a point, if not two. The Skinner-Staal-Dalpe line has looked good in the past; Dalpe does the dirty work, J Staal possesses the puck, and Skinner knocks it in. Hilarious though it is to have Tlusty on the top line, that hasn’t been terrible either; E. Staal can usually use someone to be defensively responsible while he’s galloping around the ice, short hair flowing in the breeze, occasionally stooping to acknowledge the little people and take a cross-checking penalty.
So: Canes need to stay out of the box, pass like they’re actually trying to hit each other’s tape, work all 60 minutes, not allow a 2-goal lead in the first 10 minutes, pepper Anderson with enough shots that some get through, and be roughly 900 times better at possession than they were against Boston. Not too tall an order, right?
Lines should remain the same, with Faulk back in and Sanguinetti and Westgarth scratched (Westgarth for Nodl).
This is another game where the Canes have the chance to get back to .500. Because apparently I’m a raging, unhinged cynic today, I am wondering how many times I’ll be typing that sentence this year – but never mind. The key to tonight is consistency. If they get that, Ottawa is beatable. If not, well. Where I am, the liquor store’ll still be open.