Fact #1: The Carolina Hurricanes have had more power play opportunities than any other team in hockey, and by a country mile (their margin in extra man chances over the second-place Red Wings is the same as the margin between the Wings and 14th place Calgary).
Fact #2: Not everyone is impressed with the methods used in arriving at Fact #1.
Last week we shared Lindy Ruff's thoughts on the matter and reminisced about Jacques Martin's. A few days later, and you can add the always diplomatic and reserved John Tortorella to the growing list of folks who have a problem with the way Carolina plays the game:
"I've never seen a team go down so much in my life," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "They lead the league in power plays for some reason and I've got a pretty good idea what it is. It gets to be pretty embarrassing."I guess we know who Torts is rooting against this week, and I'd be willing to bet a sawbuck that it took every ounce of restraint in his leathery body not to throw a choice simile out there to drive home that first sentence.
But whether or not the 'Canes are a squad full of divers is largely irrelevant. This is not 'Nam. This is bowling. There are rules. And as long as NHL officials keep rewarding a certain style of play, that style of play is going to continue.
Which brings us to tonight, which is as big a home game as the Caps have had in nearly half a decade. Win and they're tied with Carolina with a similar-but-much-more-favorable schedule remaining. Lose and, well, it's probably ok to schedule tee times.
And the key to winning for the Caps may very well be in not allowing Erik Cole (second in the League in penalties drawn per sixty minutes of ice time) and friends to skate with the extra man - in the Caps' three wins over Carolina so far this year, they've allowed four, three and four power play opportunities against. In the four losses? Seven, five, five and seven.
Of course, Cristobal Huet gives the Caps a chance to win even if they do run into some discipline problems - he's 8-2-0 with a 1.82 GAA and .931 save percentage since arriving in D.C. But if the Caps can stay out of the box, it's likely game over for Carolina - Huet's GAA and SV% at even strength since coming to town are a staggering 1.04 and .954, respectively, as he hasn't allowed a single even strength goal against in half of his starts as a Cap and has allowed only nine even strength goals overall in ten games.
So break out all your good luck charms and trash talk - tonight's as big as it gets... for now.
Why The Hurricanes Will Win:
"While the Caps have come a long way, they haven't arrived just yet. Many of the Canes have been there and done that, and they will do it one more time tonight. Look for Ray Whitney and Justin Williams to make their long-awaited returns from injury and they will provide more than just inspiration. Canes 3 Caps 2" - Canes CountryElsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
"'Cause OV will be all thinking about how his gf smells and because Cam Ward is 4th in the league for wins. - The Sliding Pokecheck
The Canes will come out re-energized with the return of two big guns in Ray Whitney & Justin Williams from injury. If they can simply rely on the things that have carried them this far, they should be able to snub the Caps' momentum. One of those key components is not having to rely on their defense too much. Tim Gleason, who has become a legit top pair defender this season, will be on the ice when AO is skating. A healthy(ish) Bret Hedican will be important too. Cam Ward has been back to near Conn Smythe form but the Canes need to lead in the shots on goal category.
"Should be a great one. It is rather amazing that the Caps have become America's (& Canada's) team to pull for. Although the Canes should win this game, this Caniac is with the majority in hoping to see AO and boys in the postseason... just not at the expense of Carolina." - Carolina On Ice
"Cam Ward has been very solid, Eric Staal has been on fire, and the Canes will get a boost from Justin Williiams, who will return to the lineup after missing 43 games with a bum knee. Added to that, Alexander Ovechkin will be too busy trying to pull an April Fools prank on his mail-order girlfriend to concentrate on the game. The Hurricanes will win the game and end the Caps playoff hopes." - Red and Black Hockey
The Hockey News ranks the GMs here. I rank the GMs here. Finally, one year ago today we briefly mentioned the elephant in the room and recapped a busy Saturday night of puck talk.
- Hart: Chris Drury (Game-winning OT goal, A)
- Ross: Chris Drury, Jaromir Jagr, Ilya Kovalchuk, Chris Thorburn (2 points each)
- Norris: Niclas Havelid (+2, 3 BkS)
- Vezina: Kari Lehtonen (36-save shutout win)
- Richard: Ilya Kovalchuk (2G)
- Calder: Ryan Callahan (4 SOG, 8 hits, 2 TkA, GvA, 2 BkS)
- Aiken: Vincent Lecavalier (0 points, -2)