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 you’ve been doing, even if that’s 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 team’s systems and strategies. No changes. Just review.
“It’s not being stubborn or anything,” Muller said. “We feel that stability and consistency is the key. We’re not changing the system. It’s worked. When we play it right, and play it well, we know that our results are higher on the positive side. We’re capable of it.”
The top line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty was excused, ostensibly for rest, possibly because they’re the only ones who don’t 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 line’s success, Muller is right: The Hurricanes have done a lot of the things they need to do to be successful. They just don’t 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, didn’t 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.
“That’s the thing,” Ruutu said. “Even last night, or the game against Washington (on Tuesday), we have some stretches where we’re playing great hockey. In the first period (Thursday) we had some chances and maybe there’s 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, it’s the only choice the Hurricanes have. There are no reinforcements coming over the hill. Cam Ward isn’t back on skates. Justin Faulk hasn’t 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.