RALEIGH — Stay on course. Hold the line. Proceed forward.
Two days after the Carolina Hurricanes learned no additional help would be arriving at the trade deadline, a day after they turned a solid, if scoreless, first period into a 5-0 home collapse, the message remained the same: Keep doing what youve been doing, even if thats brought us only one win in the past 11 games. Just do more of it.
Kirk Muller opened practice with an eight-minute soliloquy at the whiteboard, reviewing every aspect of the teams systems and strategies. No changes. Just review.
Its not being stubborn or anything, Muller said. We feel that stability and consistency is the key. Were not changing the system. Its worked. When we play it right, and play it well, we know that our results are higher on the positive side. Were capable of it.
The top line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty was excused, ostensibly for rest, possibly because theyre the only ones who dont appear to need a refresher course. That trio has scored 33 even-strength goals this season. The rest of the team, collectively, has scored 45.
In part because of that one lines success, Muller is right: The Hurricanes have done a lot of the things they need to do to be successful. They just dont do enough of them, and when one thing goes wrong, the rest go quickly.
Thursday was a perfect case study: The Hurricanes had a long string of chances in the Tampa Bay end in the first period, outshot the Lightning 16-9, didnt convert, gave up a goal a mere 28 seconds into the second period and lost their way from there as players veered from the system trying to play catch-up.
Too many would-be heroes only generate too many damaging zeroes.
Tuomo Ruutu, only recently returned to the lineup from hip surgery, could see it happening while he was out. Neither Ruutu, nor Muller, nor anyone else has proven capable of fixing it.
Thats the thing, Ruutu said. Even last night, or the game against Washington (on Tuesday), we have some stretches where were playing great hockey. In the first period (Thursday) we had some chances and maybe theres a little letdown when they score a goal. We just have to stay patient and keep grinding and grinding, not do things differently.
This is no time to be going back to basics, not with 12 games to go and the postseason slip, slip, slipping away with every loss. At the moment, its the only choice the Hurricanes have. There are no reinforcements coming over the hill. Cam Ward isnt back on skates. Justin Faulk hasnt yet gone through a full-contact practice. The trade deadline came and went, with Marc-Andre Bergeron arriving and Jussi Jokinen departing.
For the first two months of the season, the Hurricanes played in a manner, in a style, that brought them tremendous success. For the last month, they have lost their way. They need to find it again, now, or the only Canadians playing at PNC Arena in May will be Rush.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947