by Kate Shefte
RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—File this one under the “pathetic” category and call it a night.
The evening celebrated 10 years of Hurricanes hockey in the RBC Center – the first game in the building took place 10 years ago tomorrow – but there wasn’t much for the home crowd to celebrate in the ‘Canes’ seventh straight loss, one in which they came out strong but quickly fell flat. It was one of those games where, even though the home team trailed by two in the third, it seemed like much more.
The Blues, 12th in the West, made a mockery of Cam Ward’s goals-against, scoring four goals on 18 shots and added an empty netter en route to a 5-2 victory.
Since we’re on the topic of reasons Carolina is mired in this streak of horrendous play, here’s another reason – an inability to recover and learn from past mistakes. The ‘Canes have now given up two goals in less than a minute in five of 11 games this season. Perhaps they’ve taken a page out of N.C. State football’s game plan and let their team defense turn to mush. (I’m not bitter, swear.)
Both teams came for a fight in the first period and a hockey game broke out. Before the seventh minute had passed there were two circling, barefisted one-on-one fights featuring Jay Harrison and Brad Winchester and, later on, Tim Conboy and longtime NHL tough guy Cam Janssen.
In trying to stop the endless march to the penalty box – the ‘Canes are first in the league in penalty minutes and on pace to more than double last year’s season total – the new theory seemed to be, “if I’m going to the box, I’d might as well take one of them with me.” Harrison and Winchester unleashed their fists of fury three minutes in before things really started. Harrison got in a few good punches before both men fell to the ice.
Conboy vs. Janssen was far less exciting. Janssen got a hold of Conboy early, but Conboy ducked so far away he couldn’t get a good shot in. That one ended in a stalemate.
David Perron scored off a rebound while the majors expired. Three Blues players broke out from the boards after a session of little kid soccer – everyone standing in a circle, kicking it around without it ever really going anywhere – along the boards and before the ‘Canes really seemed to know what happened, Ward turned away a shot, Ray Whitney cleanly missed sweeping away the rebound and Perron put it behind Ward.
That was pretty much the kiss of death. The ‘Canes are 0-3-2 when giving up the first goal and showed why soon afterward.
“We’ve got to be a little bit mentally strong,” Sergei Samsonov said. “We gave up the first goal and all of the sudden we’re making plays we’re shouldn’t be making.”
The ‘Canes responded relatively well and almost got it back several times on one extended stretch of possession. However, two major brain farts later, the ‘Canes were down 3-0 heading into the second period.
Jan Stastny scored an unassisted writer and just 16 seconds later, Perron fed Jay McClement, who walked in completely alone up the side of the ice and fired one past a stunned Ward. He can hardly be credited for the loss, but he went down quickly and often against the Blues, who seemed perfectly content to fire pucks over his glove.
The referees tried their best to keep the ‘Canes in the game by throwing them a few freebie penalties, but nothing could help Carolina tonight. The Blues, on the other hand, looked calm and in control.
The ‘Canes finally put one on the board during a holding the stick penalty to Mike Weaver and Joe Corvo – easily the ‘Canes’ best defenseman through the first 11 – one-timed a Niclas Wallin feed through traffic.
K-Something left his feet during an attempted hit and was whistled for charging. The ‘Canes killed that one off, but Keith Tkachuk did a great job of faking out the defense on a 2-on-1, who took away the shot. But Tkachuk flipped a quick shot to a forgotten Andy McDonald, who easily scored on a sprawled Ward to make it 4-1.
Stephane Yelle and Cam Ward were the only ones on the ice not to take a shot during a pile-up in front of the Blues’ net, but no one even got close to the net.
Scott Walker batted his own rebound out of midair to close the score to 4-2 on a power play.
Joni Pitkanen stopped a sure goal when a Blues player wrapped it around a vacated net while Cam Ward scrambled to get back. Pitkanen kept a cool head and went for the puck, not the body, and wasn’t whistled on the play. Ward got back and smothered the puck before it crossed the line.
However, it didn’t matter as Mo pulled Ward even though his team didn’t stand a chance of coming back in its current state. Perron added an empty netter to seal the game.
When it comes to playing the blame game, there’s more than enough to go around. As a disappointed Maurice said in the postgame:
“Defensively there’s only two or three guys there because there are only two or three guys working at it.”
Not going to even hazard a guess as to who he was calling out. And he didn’t stop there:
“It’s funny how easily your confidence goes when your feet aren’t moving and you’re not hitting anybody. Doing it once doesn’t make you a good guy – you’ve got to do it every shift and we’re just not getting it.”
[On thoughts of pulling Cam Ward:]
“I thought they all deserved to be out there together tonight.”
Maurice also hinted that he wasn’t sure what exactly was wrong, but that no two areas of the game seem to be clicking on a given night and that problem could only be fixed through “hard work.” You go, Mo.
The ‘Canes will travel to meet Philadelphia Saturday at 1 p.m. The Flyers blew a two-goal lead and then some in a nationally-televised tilt against the Washington Capitals Tuesday and are looking for better results.