Justin Williams, the Carolina Hurricanes captain, likes to talk about his team trending upward, if slowly.
The word “playoffs” is rarely heard, perhaps consciously so. It’s more about the Canes patiently sticking with it, each day, each practice, each game.
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour likes to talk about effort. For much of the season, he believes, an acceptable effort has been given in nearly every game. Maybe not enough wins, but enough effort game to game.
Before a 3-2 overtime win Monday against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Canes had gone 1-4-2 in their past seven games -- the win in Chicago last week. Some would call that a slump but not Brind’Amour.
“Maybe I see it different from everyone else but it wasn’t really a slump,” Brind’Amour said. “I know the points aren’t there but I’ve really liked the way we’ve played for the most part, all year.
“We’ve just got to find ways to win and that’s been kind of the knock against the organization for a while, the last few years, that we’re playing well enough to win but we don’t. That’s the hurdle we have to get over. That’s my job. We’re a work in progress.”
Early in the seaosn, the Canes were the talk of the league. They were winning games and certainly enjoying it, especially at home, where they began leaping into the glass or paddling across the ice after victories.
Before Monday, the last postgame celebration at PNC Arena was Oct. 26, after a 5-4 shootout win over San Jose. And it was a bit muted Monday as the Canes skated across the ice for a few bumps into the glass.
But winning, not celebrating, was more important. With an 8-7-3 record and 19 points, the Canes remain in contention in the Metropolitan Division.
“You look at the standings and you look at your record, but I think towards the end of the year you’re going to see it even out in the fact we like where we’re going,” Williams said. “The other side of the coin is if you’re .500 and not playing very well, it’s different. But we’re trending right.
“We feel if we keep this up, towards the end of the year things are going to even out and our record is going to be where we want it to be.”
One reason: the Canes’ special teams.
“It can’t get much worse, right?” Williams said after Monday’s morning skate.
The Canes were 27th in the NHL on the power play and 28th in penalty-killing. But with power-play goals from Teuvo Teravainen and Micheal Ferland against the Blackhawks, they now have power-play scores in four straight games and five of seven while killing off 11 of the last 12 penalties.
“We haven’t had great special teams and it’s always hard to play catchup when you’re losing the special teams battle,” Williams said. “That’s tough. When things are going well you can win games that you maybe shouldn’t because of your special teams. That’s how you get on rolls.”
That and solid goaltending. Because of injuries, first to Scott Darling in preseason and then Petr Mrazek, the Canes have not been able to set a goaltender rotation. Mrazek’s return still is an unknown.
“That position, we’ve got to get traction there,” Brind’Amour said before the game. “We’ve got to get somebody on a roll.”
Darling’s victory over the Blackhawks was his second over his former team in five days. Winning in overtime, besting former Canes goalie Cam Ward, should only ramp up his confidence level.
“It’s always fun to play against the Blackhawks,” Darling said. “I’m happy Cam had a good game but happy we won.”
That’s one way to gain some traction.