— Toronto Star (@TorontoStar) February 21, 2015
Due to some personal challenges, I was unable to attend the Carolina Hurricanes game against the Toronto Maple Leafs Friday night. So I called a friend who is an avid ‘Canes fan, and we met at the Buffalo Wild Wings near my neighborhood. I decided that it might be fun to write this article from the perspective of two guys watching a game and eating wings. The game went the Hurricanes’ way, as they completed the sweep of Toronto.
Where’s the game
The first thing we noticed was that out of 40 televisions, not one was tuned to the game. While I’m certain somebody was keenly interested in Hartford versus Albany college basketball, it was disconcerting that in a NHL city, in a crowded restaurant, no one had asked that the game be on at least of the televisions. One would think that having a professional sports franchise in town would naturally mean that there would be local fan interest.
A glance around the restaurant also revealed that only myself and one other guy were sporting Hurricanes gear. My friend noted that while the franchise does engage in various worthwhile outreach projects throughout the community, they do not seem to be aggressively marketing the team or its individual players. For a town that experienced that frenzy of winning a Stanley Cup just nine years ago, interest has sadly waned. Not making the playoffs will do that when fans’ hopes and expectations are high at the start of every season.
Daring to lose
My friend speculated as to whether Toronto is now trying to become a player in the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel sweepstakes? They certainly have been a train wreck of late. I will defer to my colleague at the Hockey Writers, James Tanner, (@James_Tanner123) for all things Toronto Maple Leafs, but I am certain he will agree that the team has fallen mightily over the past few weeks. David Morassutti at Fansided’s “Tip of the Tower” wrote earlier Friday,
“Hopefully this matchup does not turn into a game of chicken, where neither team wants to win.”
Isn’t that an odd comment to make, particularly about a franchise as storied as the Leafs? But that is where both of these teams are as the season marches on and thoughts of rebuilding loom large.
Here we go
As the game got underway, my friend asked cynically, “Are we starting slow again?” Not to be outdone in the sarcasm department I replied, “Wait for the post-game interviews.” That is the go-to response when the ‘Canes don’t fare well. It did seem that both teams had gotten off to a sluggish pace.
After placing our order for wings and such, we noticed that the Hurricanes were on a power play. There didn’t appear to be any “power” in the play, as the ‘Canes were messing with the puck behind Cam Ward in their own zone. A few minutes later, both the pace and excitement of the game picked up dramatically when it appeared that Justin Faulk blasted a blazing shot past Leafs goalie James Reimer from near the blue line.
Further examination showed that the shot actually was redirected by Eric Staal. It was a great play set up by John Michael-Liles and executed by Faulk.
Waiting for buffalo wings on a Friday night is always a good time to check out the crowd. The place was packed as is normal for a Friday night. Both my friend and I noticed that when the Hurricanes scored the power play goal, there was no raucous cheering from the restaurant patrons. Yet another sad example of disinterest.
Unfortunately, checking out the crowd caused me to miss the live action when Toronto tied it up pretty quickly. Brandon Kozun got his first NHL goal on what was really strong presence of mind on his part.
After his shot bounced off of the post, Hurricanes goalie, Cam Ward moved off center and the puck found its way back to the front of the net. Brad Malone made a good block on Kozun’s second attempt, but was unable to stop his third. The play was a textbook example of a player staying with a play and not giving up. Kozun’s work was rewarded and the game was tied, 1-1. (Still no crowd response, but then no one was cheering for Hartford or Albany in their hoops game, either.)
Staaling the Leafs
In what was to be the game-winning and final goal of the contest, Jordan Staal punched the puck past Reimer after redirecting a shot from his brother, Eric.
Carolina’s night was characterized by good work from the line of Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, and Jiri Tlusty. Eric had a goal and an assist, Jordan had a goal, and Jiri had two assists. Coach Bill Peters acknowledged the effort after the game:
“They were good. They were big, heavy and good down low. It was nice to get that second goal so quick after we got scored on.”
Not a bad night’s work that Peters would love to see on a consistent basis.
Good game or bad hockey dressed up?
Both goalies played well in the second and third periods, or so it seemed. As the game went on, my friend wondered out loud if we were watching a good game or average hockey from two bad teams. While he has struggled this season, James Reimer looked great on this save of a Jiri Tlusty shot in the third period:
With the season that James Reimer has had, 7-13 in 25 games played and a 3.15 GAA, what will the Leafs’ management look to do with him?
One could argue that both he and Jonathan Bernier have greatly disappointed this season. Reimer’s $2.3 million against the cap is not bad money for a guy who has been relegated to back up status, but he might be worth something to a team that needs veteran goalie help.
The Toronto Maple Leafs is a team that is selling and making no apologies. They see the need to rebuild their team for any future playoff runs and have begun to take those steps. Earlier in the week they traded defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli to the Nashville Predators for forwards Brendan Leipsic and Olli Jokinen, as well as a 2015 first-round draft pick.
Will the Leafs make any more moves before the trade deadline? What about the Carolina Hurricanes? As I wrote a few days ago, there has been talk of interest around the league for defenseman Andrej Sekera, ‘Canes GM Ron Francis has not made any deals. Others mentioned as possible trade targets have been Jiri Tlusty and Jay McClement.
A point was raised by my friend as the game drew to a close, that the longer Francis waits the less likely he is to get what he wants for the assets he is willing to trade. Is it possible that other clubs are trying to wait Ronnie out in hopes of taking advantage of his position as a “rookie general manager?”
I don’t think so. Ron Francis may be in a new job, but he is not stupid or weak. His challenge will likely rest on the actual attractiveness of the players he has to offer and whether they will net him a suitable return.
A good night?
All in all Friday night Buffalo wings and hockey was pretty good. Of course it was a lot easier to get distracted from the game, but it was cool to get a friend/fan’s perspective. The Buffalo wings were excellent, but the service got kind of lax at the end. And now I have to get the mango habanero sauce off of my tablet’s screen.
Next Tuesday I plan to be back in my spot on media row in Raleigh’s PNC Arena. But a Hurricanes win, good food, and hockey talk was not bad.
PS: I saw this in the Carolina Hurricanes Facebook Group and had to laugh. Alex posted,
“It just occurred to me how many ex-Leafs we have. McClement. Tlusty. Liles. Gleason. Could be more that I’m forgetting. No wonder we suck!”
Maybe Ron Francis needs to rule the Leafs out as potential trading partners.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.