The Carolina Hurricanes faced off in one of many Western Conference matchups for October against the enigmatic Los Angeles Kings Friday night in Raleigh. They were able to walk away with a point in the shootout loss. However, the game was held up as an interesting sort of victory, and is really more of a harbinger of possible good things in the immediate future.
The Hurricanes had yet to face off in a true defensive battle this season, and were given more than enough of that against LA. Starting goaltender Cam Ward was able to match chops with Kings anchor, Jonathan Quick. While the two netminders traded jabs, it was the defense for both teams that shined. Nobody was really able to throw together any discernible offense in the attacking zone, and passing lanes through center ice were rarer than unicorns.
For a squad struggling on defense, this was a welcome sign. To be able to stand and trade punches in the ring with a solid offense like the Kings, founded upon captain Anze Kopitar – this is promising.
It’s true that the Hurricanes lone goal in regulation came from young star, Jeff Skinner who humiliated Quick going top shelf. However, seeing the team prevent goals shows the great direction in which head coach Kirk Muller is taking the team.
Moving into the weekend, the Hurricanes continue hosting visitors from sunnier climates, as the Phoenix Coyotes come to play. This is a very interesting and deceptive matchup, as Phoenix has been putting a streak together, handling both the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers this week. Compounding this equation is the unbelievable 36 save game goaltender Thomas Greiss is coming off off. Griess carries a 1.50 GAA and .956 saves percentage into this game. This is in contrast to Ward’s 2.87 GAA and .920.
The caveat is Hurricanes back up Anton Khudobin, boasting a 1.50 GAA and .940 in 2 games. Khudobin has been lights out when filling in for Ward after a loss. The natural pick for Muller is to go with his rotation idea and put Khudobin in net.
The stalemate with LA inhibited Carolina’s top line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, and Jiri Tlusty from really rolling the sleeves up and trying out some new chemistry. The Kings were able to handcuff the feisty Tlusty, causing disarray on the top line.
Currently, the reports from Saturday’s team skate have the injured Tuomo Ruutu skating again in a blue sweater. Embattled defenseman Justin Faulk was given a maintenance day, and young rookie Elias Lindholm did not skate and will likely not play Sunday due to his injury late in the second period on Friday. Muller is still tight-lipped as to the status of Ruutu and who will start in net, though the smart money is on Khudobin and the absence of Ruutu.
A loss is a loss, yet all things being considered, with lessons learned, bright defensive plays, and an even match in the form of Phoenix; things are looking up in Raleigh. While there are always areas to be improved upon, there’s no reason a win over Phoenix can’t kick start the Hurricanes through a weird rest of October.
After Phoenix, comes a home game against the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks to finish the string of Western Conference opponents, before the Hurricanes embark in their traditional October road trip caused by the North Carolina State Fair being held in adjacent Centennial Park. While Chicago will be a struggle, tucking away a win over Phoenix will fuel the Hurricanes to make their mark on the long trip.