Carolina Hurricanes approaching point of no return

Posted by Chip Alexander on February 28, 2014 

Hurricanes Stars Hockey

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Bellemore (73), goalie Anton Khudobin (31) of Kazakhstan, center Manny Malhotra (22) and defenseman Andrej Sekera (4) of Slovakia talk during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Dallas Stars Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in Dallas.

SHARON ELLMAN — AP

Canes coach Kirk Muller talked about his team hitting the restart button after the Olympic break.

They're still trying to find that button.

The Canes now are 0-2 after the break, following up a last-minute loss to Buffalo with the 4-1 beating by the Dallas Stars on Thursday. There was no apparent fire or urgency in the first period as the Stars grabbed a 2-0 lead.

"For whatever reason we didn’t have enough guys ready to go to start this game," Muller said.

The Canes did show some spunk -- and start hitting some people -- later in the game. Defenseman Ron Hainsey hit somebody, hard. After the Stars' Antoine Roussel took a run at goalie Anton Khudobin early in the third, throwing his left elbow at Khudobin's head, Hainsey quickly dropped the gloves and went after him.

When Hainsey was through with the pummeling, Roussel was bleeding from the nose and mouth. It was the kind of reaction badly needed by a team that at times appears to have trouble responding and countering a punch with a good counter-punch.

"That was good to see, that he has that kind of mentality," Canes forward Elias Lindholm said.

But the Canes' underlying problems continue. The power play remains a mess. The Canes were 0-10 on the power play in the two games and things more or less flatlined against the Stars, who had two shorthanded goals.

After the loss in Buffalo, Muller said he thought the Canes played a pretty solid overall game, and they had a 38-18 edge in shots. But the Sabres had a power-play goal in the 3-2 win while the Canes were 0-5 -- a glaring deficiency in the game.

What now? The Canes likely will lean on heavily Khudobin, even though Cam Ward is healthy. Muller switched up some lines during the Stars game -- partly because Alex Semin left with a lower-body injury, partly because nothing else was working. Eric Staal at times played with Jordan Staal.

Jeff Skinner once had 17 goals in 17 games during the season. He's the only player on the team capable of scoring 30 to 40 goals, yet has bounced from line to line. Skinner is getting his shots, for the most part, but not as effective since his run on the top line.

That's not a knock on Skinner. He's 21 and the potential is there. But Muller needs to put him where he's most dangerous, and it's probably not on a line with Riley Nash and Tuomo Ruutu.

Granted, Skinner may give up a goal or two with his defensive play and Muller likes that defense-first approach. But Skinner's offense is badly needed on a team that has some players incapable of scoring with any regularity at the NHL level.

With 23 games left in the regular season, the Canes could soon reach the point of having to accept the reality they will not make the playoffs, that they are not good enough to make the playoffs. It's unavoidable.

General manager Jim Rutherford, who is traveling with the team, will make that call in the next few days. The trade deadline is Wednesday at 3 p.m., and if things do not change drastically in the final three games of the road trip, the look of this team likely will.

That's another kind of restart button the Canes were hoping not to hit.

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