We’re now a full one tenth of the way the way through the season, so it seems as good a time as any to see how things are looking for the boys in red, white, black, and silver. At 2-3-0, the Canes have 4 points in 5 games, “good” for 3rd in the division and part of a cluster of teams tied for 9th in the conference. Bad news: we’re not in the playoffs. Relatively good news: the Rangers, Capitals, and Flyers (all of whom were projected by most to make the playoffs) are currently below the 8th place line. Standings aside, here’s my take so far:
In a tired cliche, our best players have been our best players. We’ve got a top 6 that’s actually playing like one for the first time in years, and it’s a joy to watch, save for the first period against Florida. The Staals, Skinner, and Semin are our highest paid skaters and are the top 4 point getters. Lil Baby Possible Slewfoot has been abusing goalies by getting lift on his shots from in and/or around the crease; something that we’ve been missing. He’s got a 4-game goal scoring streak and has 5 goals (but no assists…damn puckhog) on the year.
Eric Staal leads the gang in points with 6 (4 goals, 2 assists). He’s been strong on the puck and after the first 2 games, really seems to have found some chemistry with Tlusty and Semin. Take his goal last night where Semin had the puck, Staal called for it, and the biscuit found his stick right in scoring position. That type of passing and finish is beautiful to watch.
Jordan Staal has been as advertised: strong as hell on the puck, good on the draw, and a force on the PK. As noted by the Canes’ branch of the Hockey Writers, Jordan and Skinner are working out wonderfully as a forward combination. Also, when healthy, Zac Dalpe has added a good amount of speed and offensive ability to this line. Though come crunch time, he’s seen his shifts diminish in favor of a more experienced defensive forward.
Last, but not least, Alex Semin has brought a level of pure offensive skill that I can’t recall seeing on this team. His shot, as witnessed on his goal Friday flying past Miller’s left shoulder, is a thing of beauty. It’s a quick, hard release (phrasing), and even though he’s only got one goal on the season, there’s no way in hell that number won’t skyrocket if he keeps shooting at at least a 4 shots/gm pace. I knew his shot was magic, but I didn’t realize how good of a passer he is. Even on opening night, his passes were hit Eric in stride, which clearly caught him off guard after years of playing with (insert 3rd liner here) on each wing. Long story short: love this guy.
The third line of Jokinen-LaRose-Other Guy has been serviceable enough on defense, but not so much on the scoring end as Dwyer is the only forward not named Skinner, Semin, or Eric Staal to score a goal on the year. The fourth line should count their blessings every time they see the ice.
Oh hell, here’s where things get a little bit tricky. Things haven’t been what I’d consider good, but when I go to look at the stats, the players who have stood out for all the wrong reasons (Old school Toyota of Durham gimmick infringement) don’t have piss poor numbers to match their piss poor play.
Joe Corvo, who’s been as bad as the last 2 defensemen we’ve signed that were not kept by Boston (Aaron Ward and Tomas Kaberle being the other two) is only -2 in 75 shifts despite what seems like 88 turnovers. I get signing him as an insurance policy in the event that Sanguinetti doesn’t work, but the NTC on his contract is a virtual kick in the penis every time I think about it.
Harrison has been solid, no real surprise there. Gleason has been steady and provided a physical presence (including 2 fights… one against Steve Ott for COMPLETELY understandable reasons). McBain was a scratch the first two games, probably as a result of the moobs, but when he saw action against Buffalo, he took advantage of his opportunity. In 3 games, the former Badger has a goal and assist along with a +3 rating, trailing only Joni Pitkanen among blueliners. Speaking of everyone’s favorite easily distracted defensem….WHATS THAT!!??!??… oh, sorry.. Pitkanen has played some damn solid defense this season. In addition to not getting scored on with any regularity, Joni has provided great outlet passing, and has supported the offense from the half wall like we haven’t seen in 2-3 years. It’s been a true joy to watch, especially his pass on Staal’s goal Thursday night.
In addition to Pitkanen’s solid play, Justin Faulk has been fantastic. We all know he can be a PUCK MOVING DEFENSEMAN, but his shot from the point is good enough for government work, and more importantly, his physicality has improved to the point where when he’s out against the opponent’s big forwards, I don’t feel the need to grab a security blanket. Not only has he been solid on 5-on-5 minutes and the power play, but he’s been damn solid on the penalty kill as well. He might be the closest thing to a #1 defenseman we’ve had come through the pipeline in a while… just needs a bit more muscle. He was sorely missed against Boston.
Cam Ward looked at the very least a little bit shaky the first two games. Not Katherine Hepburn in her later years shaky, but more like “oh crap, we’re gonna need to score 6 to win” shaky. Maybe it was due to his getting over the flu. Maybe it was a result of having a new baby in the house and the lack of sleep that likely ensues. Perhaps it was because of the new pads that didn’t help his rebound control (see: Irbe’s new pad issues). Regardless of the cause, the Cam Ward we saw in the first two games was far from the netminder we’d hoped for and needed to see this season if the Canes are to make any sort of run for the grail this season. Luckily, Ward was MUCH better after a couple of days off, and picked up a win against Buffalo, and was much more aggressive (and seemingly confident) against Boston.
Dan Ellis put forward one of the better goaltending performances from a Hurricanes backup that I can remember against Buffalo on Friday night, stopping 40 of 41 shots in a 3-1 win in NY’s 94th favorite city.
Our power play is lethal on paper, boasting Staal, Staal, Skinner, Semin, and Pitkanen on the first unit. In reality… different story. We’re a mere 3/26 with extra men on the ice (good for 25th in the league), and gave up one SHG to Boston last night. In addition to not scoring much on the PP, the Canes have done a poor job of keeping possession and wearing out the opposing team when they have a man in the box. Not so hot on the offensive side of special teams. The penalty kill is equally poor. At about 73%, the Canes PK is 23rd in the NHL.
Our offense is good (tied for 12th in the league in goals per game), whereas our defense…..not so much, as they’re 3rd worst in the league allowing 3.6 goals per game. This probably isn’t too surprising given the questions on the blueline as well as Cam’s various valid reasons for a slow start, but the lack of physicality from the defense should’ve been a glaring issue that should’ve been addressed prior to the season. We’ve seen more than a fair share of goals scored against the Canes due to an opposing forward parking his ass in the crease and/or defensemen getting pushed out of good position in just 5 games to make even a casual fan’s head spin. The top 6 on offense has been at least as good as I’d hoped for. However, the third and fourth lines haven’t provided much GRIT and/or energy to wear down the opposition to help out the scoring lines. On defense, the offseason questions about toughness have seemingly been answered, and not in the way we’ve hoped for. I think the W-L record will improve in the next 5-10 games, largely due to Cam getting more comfortable, and most everyone knowing their roles better. But the question of team toughness will still linger.
What says ye??