RALEIGH — After the Carolina Hurricanes' 5-1 road loss against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, after another bewildering third-period collapse, coach Paul Maurice was asked if he feared for his job.
"No," Maurice replied. "You lose that once you spend enough years in the league. You just fear losing worse."
Though the Hurricanes have been losing, the decision to hire and fire rests with Jim Rutherford, the team's president and general manager. Rutherford said Sunday he supports Maurice, who was given a three-year contract after guiding the Hurricanes to the playoffs and the Eastern Conference finals last season.
"I stand firmly behind him," Rutherford said. "We all have contributed to what's happened. It's everybody, from me to the coaches to the players. We all share in the responsibility.
"But it's way too early, especially when you think of all the things that went right last year. All the things that went right last year are going wrong this year. We'll just try to sort through it."
A lot has gone wrong. The Hurricanes (5-16-5), after four straight regulation losses, are 21 points behind the Washington Capitals (15-5-6), who come to the RBC Center today (7 p.m., FSCR, WCMC-99.9) for a Southeast Division game.
After a brief respite, the Canes again are last in the NHL. They're last in goals scored (60) and goals against (97). They're the only team in the league without a road win (0-10-3).
Against the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday at the RBC Center, the Canes led 4-1 after two periods and lost 6-4. Against the Sabres on Saturday, they led 1-0 after two periods and lost 5-1.
The Thrashers scored five times in the third on 14 shots. Buffalo needed just nine shots for its five goals.
Rutherford said that after tonight's game he would huddle with Maurice, the staff and assistant general manager Jason Karmanosto to see what changes need to be made - and can be made.
"But I do not see any quick solutions," Rutherford said. "With the [salary] cap system, it's hard to make quick changes.
"We'll get everybody together and see what everybody thinks, if we feel good enough about our ability to get back in [playoff contention], or if we need to transition some players or whatever needs to be done."
A year ago, Rutherford fired coach Peter Laviolette in early December and brought back Maurice. Later, the Hurricanes were able to deal for forwards Jussi Jokinen and Erik Cole, and a strong second-half run landed them a playoff spot.
But the Jokinen trade came in February, Rutherford noted. The Cole trade, in a three-team deal that sent injured forward Justin Williams to the Los Angeles Kings, was made at the March trade deadline.
"We were fortunate last year," Rutherford said. "We were able to make a deal for Jokinen, and [Tampa Bay] took a couple of our players back. L.A. wanted Justin Williams and were willing to take him hurt. Those were unique situations.
"It's become more like the NFL, where teams are put together in the offseason, and you can't make major changes. Maybe a few changes but nothing major. ... Other teams might like to make deals, too, but it's hard to get a match."
The Hurricanes were without injured defenseman Joni Pitkanen and forward Chad LaRose against the Sabres. Pitkanen left the Atlanta game in the second period soon after a collision with teammate Brandon Sutter - "He got boinked on the head," Rutherford said - and left the Canes with five defensemen against Atlanta.
"We had no depth in the third period to hold off the other team," Rutherford said.
The Hurricanes called up defenseman Bryan Rodney from the AHL's Albany River Rats for the Sabres game, but again they could not hold on in the third.
Rutherford said he believed "a little of everything" contributed to the two third-period wipeouts. The Hurricanes played Wednesday night in Anaheim and did not get back to Raleigh until after 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving. Buffalo was the second of a back-to-back.
"We had two good periods [against Atlanta]," Rutherford said. "Maybe some of it was fatigue. There's also the lack of confidence. Once things break down, we can't hold our confidence.
"So I think it was a tired team and no confidence and no Pitkanen playing his eight to 10 minutes a period."
Rutherford said Pitkanen could return tonight, but he wasn't sure about LaRose.
"He's been playing hurt for a while," he said.
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