Steen Thwarts Late 'Canes Comeback
Flavor of the Game 700K
RALEIGH, N.C. (DEC. 15, 2006) - The Carolina Hurricanes are trying to survive without Rod Brind'Amour. So far, the results haven't been pretty.
Carolina dropped to 0-2-1 without its team leader, out with a lower body injury, falling to the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 Friday night in the homecoming of former coach Paul Maurice.
Once again, the difference in the game was special teams, an area where Brind'Amour is a force for the Hurricanes, especially in the face-off circle, where he's one of the best in the NHL. The Canes lost 40 of 75 face-offs without a guy who wins close to 60 percent. Toronto took control of a tie game with two two-man advantage goals in the second period. Carolina has now allowed nine power-play goals over the last three games without Brind'Amour in the line-up.
"Putting them on the 5-on-3 in the second period really cost us," said goalie Cam Ward, who kept the Canes tied in the second period with several key saves before the two power-play goals by the Maple Leafs. "They've got a good power play with a lot of skill and they took advantage of it."
"We're digging holes, we're taking penalties and we're giving up power-play goals and not scoring power-play goals, and that's the difference," added Cory Stillman, who had two assists in his second game back after off-season shoulder surgery. "Rod is our No. 1 penalty killer and he plays on the 5-on-3s, and the shape he's in he plays the most of it. Yeah, we miss him, but we have other guys and everybody always wants an opportunity. You've got to take advantage of it."
For the third straight time, Carolina was just 1-for-7 on the power-play after going a combined 0-for-20 in five previous games. The Hurricanes also took two late penalties that cost the club dearly.
In the final stages of Carolina's last power play, the team was caught with too many men on the ice, negating a chance to tie it with 3:38 left. Then, with Ward pulled for an extra attacker and a face-off deep in Toronto's end, Erik Cole was called for interference with 42 seconds remaining that all but killed a final chance at a game-tying goal.
"We've got to stay out of the penalty box and be a more disciplined hockey team," coach Peter Laviolette said. "We can't keep rallying. We've got to play 60 minutes of hockey, not one period here, a lazy period there, undisciplined there, disciplined here. We've got to learn. It's costing us games."
The Canes got third-period goals by a red-hot Justin Williams and Mike Commodore, but allowed the game-winner with six minutes left to Alex Steen as Carolina fell to 1-4-1 in December.
Steen's goal came just three minutes after Commodore's fourth of the season appeared to shift the momentum toward the Hurricanes and against a Toronto team that had been horrible so far this season in the third period.
But has been the case so often in the last three weeks, Carolina's momentum didn't last very long as the team's inconsistency lingers on.
The Hurricanes started 0-3-1, then went 12-4-2 over the next 18 games, only to see their record fall to 3-7-1 over the last 11 in the close Eastern Conference race. "When you're down you've got to make your own breaks," said Laviolette. "When you haven't won you've got to dig yourself out of it, nobody is going to feel sorry for you or have sympathy for you throughout the league, you better work harder, execute better and be a little more disciplined.
"Any loss is unacceptable," the coach added. "Whether you play well or don't play well we're losing games and teams are moving up from behind. We've got to pull it together and press forward. It's that simple. We can't wait around and try to hang on to a spot. We've got to win hockey games."
"We might as well have gift wrapped it for Christmas for him because it went right to him," Ward said. "It's frustrating when you work so hard to get back into the game and a crappy goal like that goes in."
The first period turned in a matter of 44 seconds when Ward got a glove on a penalty shot by John Pohl and then Cole scored his 13th and sixth in his last nine games by beating Andrew Raycroft with a backhander between the legs. Cole was set free with a long pass off the boards by Stillman, which caught Kaberle napping and Raycroft leaning out of position.
But Carolina couldn't close out the period with the lead as Commodore and Bret Hedican allowed Mats Sundin to slip between them with 1:58 left and beat Ward to tie it 1-1 after 20 minutes. Sundin also scored his first of two with the two-man advantage midway through the second period.
Defenseman Andrew Hutchinson returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for nine straight games. Meanwhile, Andrew Ladd missed the Toronto game after undergoing appendectomy surgery. Ladd was replaced in the lineup by Keith Aucoin, who was 10th in the American Hockey League in scoring before being recalled to the Canes. Aucoin played 10:38 and won seven of nine face-offs.
David Droschak is the former sports editor for the North Carolina bureaus of the Associated Press, the largest news-gathering organization in the world. In 2003, Droschak was named the North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year. The only writer in the Triangle to have covered the Carolina Hurricanes every season since the organization moved to North Carolina, he currently is a principal in the Raleigh-based public relations firm Hughes-Droschak Communications.