Posted March 11, 2009
Good morning! Here we are in the windy city. The plane ride was fairly bumpy yesterday as the Canes touched down in one of America's finest cities.
As we all know, the Canes invade Chicago on a very high note. Winners of four straight and eight of their last 10, they are scoring goals, stopping chances and overall have put together a very fundamentally sound "team game" over this stretch.
The Canes continue to check the morning line every day to see where they stand in the mad scramble of the East. Today, they start with the eighth spot with only 14 games remaining. It will be a night where they stand alone on the schedule and will have to watch everything else in the ensuing days. It would be nice to start this trip on a winning note and if they do it will be a major step forward but this one might be about the style of game and the carry over more than anything else.
Let's start in the defensive zone. In the most important half of the ice, the Hurricanes have taken their game from a team that was rated 23rd out of 30 teams in late November to one that is ranked 12th. Much of this is due to the solid play of Cam Ward, whose nightly work is right on the spot. A penalty-killing unit that since the middle of January is among the best in the NHL.
Finally, "D " zone coverage that is keeping opponents to the outside and giving number 30 a chance to get clean looks on the majority of shots. Tonight, it will all be tested. Chicago is not in a happy place. The young star-laden Hawks have had a magical season. For most of the year they have tried to keep up with Western powers, San Jose and Detroit. Have they been as good? No. But they have been a cut above everyone else. Until now they have firmly held the fourth spot and home ice in the first round. Now they are being pushed by the "herd."
Last weekend they were beaten in Boston 5-3 on Saturday and then on Sunday embarrassed at home by Colorado 5-1. They have had a long time to dwell on this. They will be ready and provide a stern test. For the the Canes, they will see much more team speed than they have in the previous three games. Last Tuesday, in DC they did a great job slowing down the Caps on the transition that will be a big key tonight.
Offensively, the Canes have been fun to watch. All of the sudden they have three lines that have scoring potential. Erik Cole's "add on" has brought their team speed to a new level. Matt Cullen's line continues to be very consistent and the captain's trio is hitting their stride. Rod Brind'Amour is playing some of his best hockey of the season and the addition of Sergei Samsonov on that line gives it an entirely different dimension. Jussi Jokinen will re-appear in the Cane group tonight after dealing with his father's untimely passing.
It will give the Canes and interesting look and the coach the option of swinging him into the top nine if someone is not going in the right direction. Through it all, part of the Hurricanes' magic potion has been their ability to get pucks to the net. It started weeks ago when Paul Maurice implored his team to shoot from everywhere. Even if it was a low percentage chance, get it at the net and often. The Canes have had more than 30 shots per game for 12 straight games and that my friends is a franchise record, not one of these relocation (Carolina) records the team likes to trot out.
Tonight, it's simple. Maintain the same work habits, adhere to your principles and the Canes will be just fine. If Chicago is at the top of its game, don't panic. This is a critical week for the Canes. If there is a breakdown they need to pick up and move on. They will face very good and urgent team's in all three spots. But in order to get to the next one in a healthy state of mind you have to start here in Chicago. The Canes have worked very hard to get to this place but it's not the end. There is all kinds of time left. Accruing points in any fashion will be great. If they stay together as a team it is very do able!
By the way, I'm going try and convince my producer to stay live during the national anthem tonight - 22,000 at United Center, it's not the old Chicago Stadium but it's close and you won't want to miss it. That is if I get my way - god forbid we break FOX policy.