That the Carolina Hurricanes allowed six even-strength goals Thursday to the Florida Panthers was an anomaly this season. That they were outscored five-on-five was not.
The Canes, in Bill Peters’ first year as coach, have shown improvement in goals-allowed per game and in shots allowed.
But five-on-five scoring, the hallmark of good NHL teams? Don’t ask.
The Canes have been outscored 159-119 five-on-five, a big reason Carolina is 27th in the league in scoring at 2.25 goals a game. Even with a power play that was ranked 10th before Friday’s games, the Canes’ struggles at even strength – Carolina also has been outscored 7-1 in four-on-four situations – have been a season-long drag.
“Your plans are to be a good five-on-five team foremost, and then the plan is for the specialty teams to give you the edge and that extra goal to win a game,” forward Nathan Gerbe said Friday.
That hasn’t happened enough, not in a 28-38-11 season that means another year out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Why so poor five-on-five?
“I don’t think we go to the net hard enough,” Peters quickly replied.
Asked if it was that simple, Peters said, “You’ve got to be able to go to the net, stay at the net and be willing to take the abuse you have to take in order to be able to score.”
The Canes have just one player with more than 20 goals – Eric Staal with 22. Jeff Skinner, who scored a career-high 33 goals last season, has 18 and Elias Lindholm 16.
Defenseman Justin Faulk has 15 goals in a breakout offensive season. That’s 10 more than forward Alexander Semin, a 40-goal scorer during his career. So it goes.
Peters said the Canes, who were beaten 6-1 by the Panthers, have enough capable goal-scorers on the roster.
“I think there’s enough, yes,” he said. “You’ve got to be willing to get into the high-traffic areas. You look at the goals this time of year and where they’re scored from and it’s close proximity to the net. So you’ve got to be willing to go to the net.”
The Canes’ lack of even-strength scoring is puzzling to Skinner, who now has gone 13 games without a goal.
“It has been a problem,” he said Friday. “You look game by game and you can see where maybe you’re not generating chances as a team or where you’re not finishing, and sometimes it’s a combination. In other games we’re not around the net enough and not giving ourselves enough opportunities.
“A majority of the games are decided by one or two goals. Special teams are important but for the most part games are decided five on five and you have to find ways to come out on the positive end of that.”
The top five teams in five-on-five scoring: New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings.
The bottom five: Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina, Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes.
It’s not complicated. No fancy stats needed. It’s score or else.
“It’s about being hungry, getting in front of the net and banging pucks in,” said Gerbe, who has nine goals. “It sounds so easy but it’s just not. But that’s something we’ve got to do. We’ve got to get to the hard areas and get inside the paint and get more dirty goals.”
There’s not much time left to do it. The Canes, who host the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday at 1 p.m., have five games left.
“Obviously I have not produced the way I’d have liked to,” Skinner said. “It’s been an up-and-down season and I need to have more consistency. You have to stick with it and find a rhythm during the season and string a few game together and keep giving yourself more opportunities. It’s something to learn from.”