The Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs put bottom of the conference hockey on display as they battled to see who could get to the bottom of the standings. The ‘Canes proved for the third time in four games that no lead is safe, once again getting a lead, having the other team tie it up, and then losing in overtime, this time in a shootout.
Carolina is now solidly in last place in the Metropolitan Division with 15 points. The Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres are tied for last in the Atlantic Divison with 18 points apiece.
Where Was the Captain?
Hurricanes captain Eric Staal was seemingly nowhere to be found during this game. Staal managed one shot on goal even though he played 24 shifts and was on the ice for 19 minutes. Including Friday night’s loss to the Leafs, Staal has had only seven shots on goal in the past five games.
His score sheet for those games includes zero goals and three assists. In a season that is quickly leaving fans disappointed, the captain is not leading by example offensively. There have been no reports of him being injured, so we are left to wonder what is wrong with Staal…where is the captain?
Staal, whose contract is up at the end of this season, has been quoted recently as saying he would like to stay with the Hurricanes. Regarding his contract, The Toronto Star recently quoted Staal as saying, “As every day goes by, it gets closer to certain decisions being made. I’ve been focused on what I have to do at the rink to help this team.” Earning $9.5 million in this his final contract year, Staal is not doing much on the ice to make a case for signing another huge deal with Carolina, or anyone else.
James Reimer Was Solid, Ward Tried
Leafs goalie James Reimer is solid. Against the offensively challenged ‘Canes he stopped 33 of 34 shots in regulation, and bested his counterpart Cam Ward in the shootout. Sporting a 7-2 record so far this season, Reimer has a goals against average of 2.08 and a save percentage of .933, fifth and seventh in the league respectively.
‘Canes goalie Cam Ward is also in his final contract year, and has played pretty well this season, but has not been supported offensively by his teammates. Ward is 5-6 this season with a goals against average of 2.40 and a save percentage of .902, 23rd and 36th in the league. Like Staal, Ward is not making a strong case for a big new contract in this his final contract year.
Ward has done what has been expected of him most games; there is just no scoring support. Eventually the opponent is going to slap one by even the best goalie, and if all your team is putting on the board is one goal or two per night, it’s going to be a long season.
With the Los Angeles Kings coming to town Sunday to close out the Hurricanes’ home stand, a win would be nice. Getting two points would help, but they’d still be behind the Leafs. To put it in perspective, three of the four division leaders already have 30 or more points.
The Leafs head to Boston to face the Bruins Saturday night and then have three games at home. The battle for the bottom in the East could last deep into the season, unless either the ‘Canes or the Leafs get hot. Like I said, the battle could last deep into the season.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.