Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Canes Dooooh-fer Week One

I've fallen and I can't get up!
Canes drop another one to Gelinas, Roberts and Ollie the Alien and his tight helmet
photo: ap

I set the DVR to record tonight's Canes/Kitties game, but chose to take a look at the score on before I immersed myself in hours of frustration. Glad I took that glance.

So why did I have that sinking feeling barely a summer removed from a sterling season that culminated in a Stanley Cup Championship? I think it's because after one week of the season, these Carolina Hurricanes seem to have forgotten what made them champions last season.

It wasn't accolades and hype. Last year's squad enjoyed virtual anonymity until the last months of the season. It wasn't the late-night TV appearances or FM magazine parties. The boys didn't get invites to those things until after they won the Cup.

The boys are just deep into their Stanley Cup hangover. After a short summer of being feted, hoping injuries would heal on their own, and ignoring the ghosts of 2002, I think the boys haven't adjusted to the fact that the rest of the league spent the off-season watching, analyzing and adjusting to the style of play that made the Hurricanes superior in the first year of the New NHL.

The Saberslugs on the other hand seem to have used their summer wisely. Don't discount the role bitterness played in their off-season preps. They were close in the conference finals and still feel they got jobbed...again...Brett Hull in the crease, Scott Norwood re-sets, and that tired old, "You rednecks don't sell out your games so you are not worthy" refrain lingers.

Last year's Hurricane squad dominated games with relentless and aggressive forechecking, disciplined team defense, ownership of the puck, and blazing speed in transition that created opportunities on the other end.

Not seeing that yet. I'm seeing and reading about defensive breakdowns, slashing penalties (frustration and lack of discipline), hooking penalties (not skating), cheap shots and whining at refs (Gleason and Staal) and fratricide (that Adams/Hedican cage match).

And it's not because Marty Gerber is no longer wearing the sightless eye. He's stinking up the joint in Ottawa. It's also not because Matt Cullen isn't on the third line. Eric Belanger is filling that role nicely and the line he shares with Letowski and Walker is team's best at this point. The loss of Cory Stillman's composure and good hockey sense on the first line is probably hurting a lot.

I think the struggles on defense might be attributable to the loss of AWard more than Frankie Kaberle. AWard did everything well - not spectacularly, but he scored timely goals, delivered crushing hits that changed momentum and blocked a ton of shots. If you add in the fact that Wes is another year older, Heddy is a year older and coming off major hip surgery; Gleason is young, pressing a bit and prone to youthful mistakes, and you have the makings of "issues" on the blueline after week one. Oh yeah, don't forget that David Tanabe is coming off knee surgery and already showing ARod-type tendencies after getting dumped by a bad Bruins team.

Is it time to panic? Nope. Is it time for the boys to adjust to this new reality and start to pay the price it takes to defend a Stanley Cup championship? Yup. Complacency is death in hockey. There is no cruise control in a league where parity rules. Last year the Carolina Hurricanes were a band of brothers. A little brotherhood would be nice right about now.

So the long roadie continues. Friday night the boys face the Thrash in the ATL. Koval-Chick, Unibrow, Sutton and that little mini-Sutton, Garnet Exelby, are probably licking their chops right about now.


nuts4pucks said...

I can't think of a team in the league that wouldn't be licking their chops right about now! After watching the Pens play last night, if our guys keep mailing it in the way they have been they are going to get their backsides royally kicked in two more games!

CasonBlog said...

That last goal with 3 seconds left was a thing of beauty. Old Man Recchi looks pretty fresh as well, eh? And that Whitney kid's one-timer off a pass into his skates on a breakaway?

Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

I hear Gleeson has been terrific.

The Canes will be ok. They're just not used to being the hunted and now they are - every game they play.

A couple of key guys out, a few changes to the lineup and a dose of SC hangover is a bad combination but the Oilers were winless in 7 ten games in last year and we know how it worked out for them.

If at the quarter pole they haven't looked to turn it around then I would begin to worry (although even then its not too late - see SJ, Anaheim, Calgary from last year) but until then they have to work through it and rediscover what made them Champs (to my chagrin) - busting their collective humps.