Fast Finish, Slow Start

Everyone always talks about how the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover threatens the two teams that make it to the finals. But so far this season, there are two teams suffering from what I call the Hot Finish hangover.

The Carolina Hurricanes and St. Louis Blues both pushed their way into the playoffs last season with spread out scoring and unbelievable goaltending down the stretch. The ‘Cardiac’ Canes went an impressive 33-19-5 once Paul Maurice took over as head coach, and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Blues on the other hand, were a League best 25-9-7 during the second half of the season, good enough to help all the way to the 6th spot in the Western Conference.

So far this season, both teams just look completely out of gas.

The scoring depth that fueled the Canes run has withered down, leaving them sitting last in goals per game with 1.93. Eric Staal has not been a shadow of the Conn Smythe form he showed in the Playoffs with only 5 points in 13 games; Ray Whitney, who has been almost a point per game player since the lockout, only has 8 points in 14 games; and succes stories from last season like Chad Larose and Sergei Samsonov (a perennial slow starter) has not continued their solid offensive play.

With Erik Cole and Eric Staal on the shelf already, and Whitney and Tuomo Ruutu joining them today, the Canes are going to have to rely more heavily on youngsters Brandon Sutter and recently recalled Zach Boychuk if they want to snap their 10 game losing streak tomorrow against the equally awful Toronto Maple Leafs.

The St. Louis Blues are a different story. Filled with a ton of excitement after their sweep of the Detroit Red Wings in Sweden to start the season, the Blues have gone 3-6-1 in their past 10, scoring only 20 goals. And 10 of those 20 goals came from 5 goal games against the Ducks and aforementioned Hurricanes.

Their offense has completely dried up. Their leading scorer is Keith Tkachuk, with 9 points; but you can be sure that he will slow down as the season goes, as he does every year. Just about everyone else on their roster has been underperforming. The finally healthy Paul Kariya only has 7 points, with 4 coming in the opening two games against the Wings. After 76 goals in his past two seasons, Brad Boyes only has 2 so far, and David Backes only has 1 after putting up a surprising 31 last year. It also seems that the sophomore slump has hit Patrik Berglund and the injured TJ Oshie.

The positive thing for the Blues is that their defense is not the issue as the have the 11th best goals against per game. Offensive issues are much easier to fix than defensive. Fortunately, the Blues have all of the tools to fix those issues.

So is this just an issue of both teams being exhausted from their somewhat cindarella runs last year, or were they just both playing way above their head? I believe that the Blues are just suffering from a prolonged scoring slump and will break out of it soon. Eric Brewer’s recent return will help that.

The Canes on the other hand, live and die with the play of Eric Staal and Cam Ward, and with both players fighting for spots on the Canadian Olympic team, I think they improve very soon.

On a somewhat sidenote, it is amazing how much a month of hockey can change opinions. Coming into the season, many thought Eric Staal was a lock for Team Canada and Cam Ward was the frontrunner to take the backup goalie job. Now Staal’s spot may be in jeopardy and there is talk that Marc Andre Fleury will actually be the number one goalie.

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