RALEIGH — In the winter of 2003, after a dismal six-goal loss to the Los Angeles Kings, the Carolina Hurricanes reached the inevitable conclusion that no matter how hard anyone tried or what anyone did, their season was only getting worse. And it proceeded to get worse, all the way to last place.
Is it possible the Hurricanes have reached that point on the first day of November, after a dismal four-goal loss to another West Coast team? After all, this is the first time the Hurricanes have gone nine games without a win since then.
This team doesn't have the injury problems or overwhelming lack of interest the 2002-03 team developed as it slid down the standings, but it also doesn't have a whole lot of answers, either.
"We're all taken aback," coach Paul Maurice said. "That's part of it. Things you've seen work well in the past haven't, and areas you expected to be strong aren't."
Even before Carolina gave up two goals in 82 seconds Sunday, mere moments after scoring the game's first goal, the cracks in the façade were in plain view. The celebration of Ray Whitney's 1,000th game became an exhibition of why the Hurricanes are the second-worst team in the NHL and have the fewest points in franchise history through 13 games.
Five minutes into the 5-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks, as the Hurricanes tried to get in position for a controlled breakout, Joni Pitkanen got tired of waiting behind the net for his teammates to get into position. He fired the puck up the boards and out of the zone, throwing it away in an indictment of the Hurricanes' grasp of the basics of the game, from teamwork to effort to passing to patience, as they failed to execute one of the most routine plays in hockey.
It was not an isolated incident. In the second period, a lone San Jose forechecker provoked Niclas Wallin and Joe Corvo into icing the puck. That defensive pair would later make a fundamental coverage mistake, but so would the other two.
Effort wasn't so much the issue Sunday - the Hurricanes played hard, for the most part, and had chances to score - as the inexplicable lapses of concentration and fundamental mistakes, the symptoms of a team bereft of confidence and paralyzed by indecision.
"Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of a video session the next day," Whitney said.
The nine-game winless streak is Carolina's longest since the final 11 games of the 2002-03 season, an 0-9-2 stretch that by general acclamation marked the worst hockey ever played by this franchise.
It's astonishing how quickly this team has fallen apart. A group that played with such passion and togetherness in the playoffs retained none coming into the season and has generated none since then. NHL All-Star Games have been played with more cohesiveness.
Some initial struggles were inevitable, given the lowintensity training camp and brief four-game exhibition season for the league's oldest roster, but even the most pessimistic observer would have expected the Hurricanes to be better than 29th in the NHL this at this point.
Asked if he was surprised this was happening to a veteran team, Whitney acknowledged, "This whole season is surprising with a veteran team."
Of course, this can all turn around with one goal, one win, one winning streak. But this malaise has also lasted far longer than anyone could have expected, to the point it's doing damage to the Hurricanes' playoff hopes.
Already 12 points out of first place in the Southeast Division, the Hurricanes have to find some answers before this hole gets any bigger.
Even that legendary 2002-03 team wasn't this bad this quickly. No team in franchise history has been this bad this quickly.
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