Back in the saddle.
Wow. Lots to cover with this game.
I’ll start by being a bit smug: Joni Pitkanen had a hell of a game for someone everyone was writing off as a loss. People seemed to quickly forget that in addition to not playing half a season along with everyone else, Pitkanen also missed most of the season last year due to injury. That’s a lot of rust to shake off, but it’s no reason to assume he’d never be decent again – and when he’s healthy, make no mistake, he’s decent to quite good. His & Sanguinetti’s stumbling out of the gate makes sense, considering Sanguinetti’s newness to the NHL and Pitkanen’s own issues; but that pass from Pitkanen to Eric Staal for the Hurricanes’s fifth goal was excellent. In the first period, he got his stick on a would-be shot on a Ward rebound, saving a goal. Overall, he read plays excellently and was in the right place at the right time. If he stays this solid, the Canes’ d-corps could look a lot better than they have these past few games.
It feels somewhat disingenuous to praise Ward for his performance, when by Ward’s own overall standards it really wasn’t anything to write home about. But Ward, almost more than any other veteran Hurricanes player, has really had trouble finding his footing, and he made several critical saves at moments when the Hurricanes needed him to. Even his brief impersonation of a wide-open gate in the second, when the Sabres hung two on him in less than two minutes, was followed up by a solid rest of the period – during which he bailed his defensemen out several times, and kept the Hurricanes in it when the Sabres were making a home in their end. Same goes for the first chunk of the third period, when the Canes were out-shot and out-chanced.
Much has been made of Eric Staal being kind of a head case, by myself and by pretty much everyone else who covered him last year. It was acknowledged by the Canes themselves that the first half of the year was a real issue for him, and that he stumbled in no small part due to the sheer mental pressure of being Carolina’s only forward with any real, consistent star power. Now? Well, the hat trick really says it all. The pressure’s off, with Skinner, J. Staal, and Semin all providing (in theory, and tonight in practice) support for the Captain. Catching the long pass and going five-hole on Enroth was inspired; his finish on the Pitkanen pass was admirable. The ENG capped the whole thing off nicely. Even his very typical cross-checking penalty can’t get me that fussed tonight.
Speaking of the supporting talent, Jordan Staal had a beast of a game. Two assists, plus his work on the PK making it incredibly obvious why he was so valuable as a two-way forward with the Penguins. If he keeps playing like that, he’ll be every bit as essential to the lineup as his older brother, and rightly so.
Skinner’s response to Muller has made his game the tightest I’ve seen it since his rookie year. He’s been disciplined, he’s been to-the-point in attempts to capitalize on his scoring chances.
In general, the Skinnner – J. Staal – Dalpe line was impressive tonight. Dalpe, along with Bowman, both had good looks – and Dalpe’s been putting himself in the paint and doing the hard work to open up scoring chances for his linemates. That’s exactly what he ought to be doing.
Other players of note:
- Faulk, whose decision not to pass gave the Canes their first comfortable lead
- Semin, who didn’t tally but has been working so hard I wouldn’t laugh if you called him gritty, and who absolutely will see his hard work pay off if he keeps it up
- Jiri Tlusty, who slotted in easily with E. Staal and Semin
- Jussi Jokinen, whose defensive work is making an excellent case for him staying at the 3C position
- and finally, McBain. Solid defensive work, including saving a goal, means if he’s scratched in favor of Old Shoe Corvo I will funnel bourbon straight into my brain.
And a few other things:
- the penalty kill was nails. Composure, crisp passing – no panic to be seen
- while the Hurricanes did lose composure and scramble to keep Pominville and Vanek out of the net a few times, overall, they did a good job at rallying when Buffalo got some goals back and keeping their heads when Buffalo turned the pressure on. Even the ridiculous pace the Sabres had to start the third period didn’t end in Buffalo taking the lead. That’s a massive change on the dam-breaking nature of the first two Hurricanes games.
Overall, this was the kind of game that people were looking for when they said the Hurricanes would be a playoff team this year. Will they do it again tomorrow? Maybe. For all that the score ended up being 6-3, Buffalo was in it for the vast majority of the game; it was a tight, tight game during large parts of each period. The Hurricanes will have to keep a lid on Vanek and Pominville, and not let the Sabres’ scrappier players get in their heads. These teams don’t like each other, and Buffalo can be dangerous on the power play. But after tonight, I certainly have greater faith in the Canes’ ability to pull out another win.
AND I’M OUT. See y’all in the AM.