Last Friday’s meeting between the Canes and Atlanta, the first following the NHL’s holiday break, was an interesting one to say the least. Even though Carolina won 5-4, it was the type of game that neither coach was especially pleased with afterwards.
“I think that was the poorest game that we’ve played since I got here,” said Paul Maurice, who added that he hoped that was due to holiday rust than anything else. “I just thought it was a poorly played hockey game by two teams.”
On what specifically he’s been working with the team to correct from that game, Maurice cited turnovers that Atlanta created while the Canes were trying to break the puck out of their own defensive zone.
“When you get control of the puck in your end of the ice, people start moving into breakout positions,” said Maurice. “If you turn it over then, you’ve got a guy in the corner, you’ve got a guy on the wall and they’ve got the puck in the middle of the ice. That’s a real problem for us. That’s what I thought we did poorly, and a lot of our problems were self-inflicted.”
That part of their game was better against Boston, although the Bruins were able to score the winning goal on a play similar to the one Maurice described. That’s why the team has been concentrating on defensive zone coverage in their two full practices since.
Atlanta’s Bryan Little won’t make things easy on the Canes, as he has continued his hot scoring pace since he and Eric Staal traded hat tricks last week. He’s potted seven goals during a current four-game goal streak.
On the flip side, Ilya Kovalchuk, a 50-goal scorer last season a perennially one of the league’s top snipers, has now gone a career-high nine games without scoring a goal. That’s not always good news for the opposition, however. Montreal’s Alexei Kovalev was in a 19-game drought before scoring on the Canes and then starting a three-game streak, while Eric Staal was in an eight-game slump before scoring three on the Phoenix Coyotes back in November.
Atlanta played last night on the road in Toronto, which should be advantage for a Canes team that’s been off since the Bruins game on Saturday. Goaltender Johan Hedberg, who has played well against Carolina throughout his career but is expected to sit for Kari Lehtonen tonight, made 43 saves in the losing effort.
The Thrashers were outshot 47-32 in the game, and have only outshot the opposition six times this season.
A reminder that the game starts an hour later than usual tonight at 8 p.m. If you haven’t heard yet, there’s plenty going on at the RBC Center tonight after the game, so stick around and enjoy the beginning of 2009.
World Junior update: We thought yesterday on the podcast that Drayson Bowman might have a big night, but he joined fellow Canes prospect Zach Boychuk in taking it easy on the overmatched Kazakhstan team. He only had one goal in Team USA’s 12-0 win, but now has three in three games for the tournament.
Bowman and Boychuk face off against each other tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the much-anticipated Canada-USA game.