What now for the Carolina Hurricanes?
Twenty-five games into the season, the Canes have eight wins. They’ve lost the past three games, and the last – a 5-1 beating Thursday by the New Jersey Devils – was perhaps the worst of a season quickly going awry.
After Thursday’s game, Canes captain Eric Staal was somber as he sat as his locker and at times appeared both emotional and edgy.
“We’ve lost three in a row now in regulation, and it’s no fun,” Staal said. “We’ve got to find a way to pick ourselves back up.”
The Hurricanes, perhaps looking to shake up the lineup, made some personnel moves Friday, recalling forwards Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe, and defenseman Jaccob Slavin from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. Defenseman Ryan Murphy was reassigned to the Checkers.
It’s the first callup for Di Giuseppe, a second-round pick by Carolina in the 2012 NHL Draft. Slavin made his NHL debut Nov. 20 and played six games before being reassigned earlier this week, and McGinn played his first NHL game Oct. 16 – scoring on his first shift – and was in the lineup for 12 games before going back to Charlotte.
The Canes did not practice Friday and the roster for Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens will be set after the morning skate at Raleigh Center Ice.
If we’re not competing we’re not winning much, so it has to show up right from the start.
Canes center Jordan Staal
In Thursday’s game, the Canes faced a Devils team that has been playing well. Many of their players had their fathers along for a “Dads Trip,” adding emotional support.
The loss to the Devils marked the 11th time Carolina has scored one goal or been shut out in games. The Canes were 28th in the NHL in goals per game (2.04), having been outscored 49-33 in five-on-five play, and were last on the power play (12.2 percent) through Thursday’s games.
General manager Ron Francis has stressed the overall age of the team – 26.5 years old, of the players who dressed for the Devils game – and notes such promising young players as Justin Faulk (23), Noah Hanifin (18), Brett Pesce (21), Elias Lindholm (21), Jeff Skinner (23) and Victor Rask (22) and Slavin (21) could make up a strong core moving forward.
A few weeks ago, Canes coach Bill Peters said he would have a good handle on his team by Thanksgiving, referring to it as a traditional “line in the sand” in the NHL – the time when most of the viable playoff contenders have been identified. The Hurricanes, 8-10-4 on Thanksgiving Day, and since have lost to Buffalo, the New York Rangers and then the Devils.
Next up: the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. The Canadiens (19-5-3) lead the Eastern Conference with 41 points despite an injury to goalie Carey Price.
Peters, in his second season as coach, has stressed puck possession and strong work in the defensive zone, reducing opponents’ scoring chances. That’s been undone, in part, by some inconsistent goaltending from Cam Ward and Eddie Lack – the Canes’ overall save percentage (.883) ranks 29th in the league – but also by stretches of struggling play in the Canes’ zone.
Against the Devils, the Canes (8-13-4) often were bottled up in the defensive zone as an effective New Jersey forecheck caused Carolina turnovers and other poor decisions.
“There was not enough compete,” Eric Staal said. ”We weren’t on our toes. They were on us. We were spending more time in our end fighting to get pucks under control and on the forecheck against them and they were a little more aggressive than we were.”
That aggression began to wear on the Canes, who fell behind 1-0 after the first period and trailed 4-1 after two.
“Guys started getting frustrated with each other a little bit and just frustrated on the ice,” Jordan Staal said.
For Eric Staal, the emotion spilled over in the third. Angry about a hit by the Devils’ Eric Gelinas on Andrej Nestrasil in the second period, Staal flattened Gelinas with a hit in the third and later tangled with Adam Henrique.
Canes forward Brad Malone, who had a second-period goal, and Faulk picked up fighting majors in the game and Ron Hainsey had a roughing penalty. There was some fire – something missing much of this season.
“If we’re not competing we’re not winning much, so it has to show up right from the start,” Jordan Staal said. “The only way to get out a funk like that is coming to work and working hard and competing. When you start doing those things consistently … good things will happen. They may not contribute to a win but they will contribute to being in matches and playing the game we know we can play.”