It looked bleak for a while, but thanks to back-to-back wins against Toronto and Pittsburgh, the Canes now head into the All-Star break on a positive note.
The team’s most recent three-game road trip, which began with a 3-1 loss in Buffalo before winning the next two, is almost the complete opposite of the disastrous swing only a week earlier that featured blowout losses in Boston and Ottawa. In any case, winning two of three on the road should always be viewed as a success, and if not for the efforts of Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller in the third period of Saturday night’s game, the Canes could have made it a clean sweep.
There are several aspects of the Canes’ game that improved over the last week, most notably work ethic. The team was constantly the first to loose pucks and won battles all night, particularly in Pittsburgh.
Beyond that obvious yet important facet of their game, credit must also go to the penalty kill. As we’ve been mentioning recently both in this space and on the podcast, it’s quietly been a problem all year and was starting to cost the team games, especially in the loss to Toronto last week. In that game, a late power play goal by Frank Kaberle’s brother Tomas thwarted one of the finest comebacks in recent history for Carolina.
Instead of costing them games, the last two contests are the first I can think of this season that the penalty kill actually won one for the Canes.
With both games very tightly played, the outcome could have been a lot different if Toronto had converted on a lengthy two-man advantage, or if Pittsburgh had made good on their four-minute power play to finish the game last night. The Canes killed 10 of 11 penalties during the trip, responding to some criticism coach Paul Maurice threw their way beforehand.
“At the end of the day, with the guys we have on faceoffs our penalty kill shouldn’t be as bad as it is,” he said after Friday’s tough practice. “We have a very difficult time of getting into shooting lanes right now, and we’re trying to find some pairs that are willing to do that.”
That quote doesn’t include an adjective I can’t repeat here, but it’s the same one he used during his press conference after the Toronto loss, if you happened to see that.
Of course, the cliché is that your best penalty killer is always your goaltender, and the Canes had a good one. Cam Ward stopped 90 of 94 shots on the road, continuing the strong play he’s exhibited for most of his 13 consecutive starts. I'll also single out Joe Corvo, who was on the ice for a team-high 6:30 while shorthanded against the Penguins.
Now, the Canes (with the exception of Eric Staal) will take a break for one full week, and can hold their heads reasonably high after three solid efforts. The All-Star break is really the only time the players have significant time to get away on their own (Mike Commodore had it listed as his favorite holiday in last year’s media guide), so they should come back refreshed and feeling good about themselves. That especially goes for Scott Walker and Niclas Wallin, who picked up injuries in last night’s game.
The Hurricanes were a different team after last year’s break, posting a 19-9-2 record once they got back to work. They’re in better position now than they were last year (three games above that pace and in playoff position) but they’ll need a run like that again down the stretch.