For Bill Peters, “frustration” is the “F word” right now. He’s trying really hard not to say it, but he’s clearly battling it, even after a victory Sunday.
After a road trip that saw the Carolina Hurricanes capture just one of six points available, the Carolina Hurricanes coach was avoiding the F word while lamenting his team’s lack of goal-scoring ability before Sunday’s 1-0 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning and still dodging it afterward, saved by Phil Di Giuseppe’s close-in shot that finally beat Ben Bishop.
Peters was understandably thrilled with the Hurricanes’ ability to emerge from a close game with a win, something that has dogged them on the road lately, if not at home, where they have won six straight. But hockey coaches are typically obsessed with the process as much as the results, and Sunday’s offensive process wasn’t good enough. It’s not a repeatable formula for victory, even as well as Cam Ward has been playing in net lately.
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Di Giuseppe redeemed himself for missing an open net late in regulation, a misfire that summed up the Hurricanes’ offensive woes as well as Teuvo Teravainen’s decision in the first period, after stickhandling through the slot to a forehand shooting position, to whirl and fire a blind pass to no one.
“We have enough skill that we should score more than we do, and that’s the focus right now,” Peters said. “Defensively I think we’ve been fine. Cam Ward’s been outstanding. Michael Leighton’s given us a chance in his two starts. We’ve got to find a way to get offensive support for these guys and go from there.”
This is a persistent problem for the Hurricanes, and has been in all three seasons of the Peters-Ron Francis regime. It’s also not an entirely unexpected one for a team with the lowest payroll in the NHL. While the Hurricanes save a few bucks on defense by relying heavily on young players outperforming their entry-level contracts – the telepathic, versatile pairing of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce in particular – all that cost-cutting has to hit home somewhere, and for this team it’s on offense, even when Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm are healthy (they were absent, again, Sunday).
Still, if this is how they have to win games, the manner and composure of the Hurricanes’ victory was as impressive as Ward’s 30 saves in net. This past week alone, they were up 2-0 on the New York Rangers early, up 1-0 on the Boston Bruins late and tied 2-2 with the Rangers with a two-man advantage in the second period, but came away with a single point. Peters pointed to the two-man advantage at Madison Square Garden in particular as a turning point, but there were any number of times when the Hurricanes had a chance to take control and did not.
“Those are the moments you’ve got to step up,” Peters said. “To me, that’s how you find the solution to the problem. It’s a big pivotal time, right? You talk about moments in a game, those are moments. Huge moments.”
Sunday, there were plenty of those moments, for both teams. Perhaps the biggest: The Hurricanes killed overlapping penalties, including 21 seconds of a two-man advantage, late in the third period to keep their chances alive before Di Giuseppe delivered.
“The game had a sense that it was going to take one goal,” Ward said. “And whoever was going to get it was going to win.”
On this night, in overtime, the Hurricanes found the solution. As they head back on the road, they’re not only looking for solutions, but more goals as well. As nice as it is to win 1-0 games, it’s not a recipe for avoiding the F word, especially away from home.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock