The Carolina Hurricanes wanted to play an exciting brand of hockey this season, using their speed, allowing their defensemen to jump into plays and help juice up the offense, staying on the attack, staying aggressive.
But when you can’t score ...
Welcome to the grind.
The same offensive problem that has plagued the Canes in recent years -- an inability to finish -- has cropped up again. The shots are there. The chances are there. The openings are there. The goals are not.
“When we’re on our game, when we’re at our best, we create enough opportunities to score a lot of goals,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “So it shouldn’t be an issue.”
It is an issue. The Canes have taken an NHL-high 1,007 shots on goal. They have 65 goals and their 6.5 shooting percentage easily is the worst in the league.
“We’re going to be talking about this all year,” Brind’Amour said Monday. “That’s our group. We need to out-chance teams to be successful.”
The smorgasbord of 22 goals in the first five games, when the Canes started 4-0-1, is a fading memory. What’s fresh in everyone’s minds is the 2-0 shutout against the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday or scoring one goal -- rookie Andrei Svechnikov in four-on-four play -- in the past two games.
The Canes did score nine goals in back-to-back wins over Toronto (5-2) and Florida (4-1) on Nov. 21 and Nov. 23. But in the past 16 games, Carolina has been shut out twice and scored two or fewer goals 10 times in going 6-7-3.
Brind’Amour recently was asked if the Canes had enough scorers to get where the team wants to go this season -- namely the playoffs for the first time since 2009. It was a question often posed to former coach Bill Peters.
“I think so,” Brind’Amour said. “I mean, it’s going to be a challenge.”
It also raised the unpleasant possibility that the Canes might have to “win ugly” in more games. Rely on their solid defensive corps while hoping goalies Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek are steady enough in net and win low-scoring games.
It could be a bit more conservative and boring. But barring a trade for scoring help, grinding out wins may be a necessity.
“No doubt,” Brind’Amour said. “I think we’re going to be in a lot of those games and I feel we’ve felt pretty comfortable in the games we’ve had, these tight games. The whole league, there’s going to be tight games and we’re going to have to be able to win those.”
More power play struggles
In the 2-1 overtime loss Friday to the Anaheim Ducks, the Canes came up empty on all six power plays. One power-play score and it could have been different. Instead, the Ducks scored late to tie the score, then won in OT.
“We seemed out of sync. There was some sloppy play,” defenseman Justin Faulk said of the power plays.
It was more of the same Sunday against the Kings in a game that was scoreless until the final minutes of regulation. The Canes had 90 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play but couldn’t score and were 0-3 for the game in Los Angeles.
“We’ve got to put the game away on one of those power plays,” Brind’Amour said.
After the game, Brind’Amour mentioned centers Lucas Wallmark and Jordan Staal having good looks in front of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and not being able to convert. Sebastian Aho was set up for a few openings, only to fan on the puck or mis-hit it.
According to Naturalstattrick.com, a hockey analytics website, the Canes had 16 high-danger scoring chances against the Kings, who had 13.
“How many chances has Wallmark had the last couple of games?” Brind’Amour said. “He’s been all alone in front of the net four or five times and he can’t seem to buy one. There’s a bunch of guys. Jordan had I don’t know many chances right in front. Same thing.”
Wallmark has one goal in 26 games. Staal has five but none in the past 13 games. Warren Foegele, after scoring four goals in the first four games, is still looking for a fifth. The D-men have contributed little.
“Again, you can talk about it all you want,” Brind’Amour said. “We have to find a way to get it in there.”
Goal-scoring can’t be taught
One telling comment from Brind’Amour came when he was asked how younger players can be taught to be better finishers.
“You don’t,” he said. “Goal scoring is not something you can really teach.”
The Canes had a natural goal-scorer in winger Jeff Skinner but traded him to the Buffalo Sabres in the offseason. Skinner, who scored 24 goals for the Canes last season, has 20 this season.
When Skinner was traded, general manager Don Waddell said Skinner’s production could be replaced by the influx of newcomers: Svechnikov and rookie center Martin Necas, defenseman Dougie Hamilton, forward Micheal Ferland.
“I don’t think goal-scoring is going to be a big issue for us as we move forward,” Waddell said.
Ferland has a team-high 11 goals but is out with a concussion. Svechnikov has six goals, Hamilton three and Necas is playing wing for the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL.
Goal-scoring is a big issue. Waddell said Wednesday that trying to obtain a top-nine forward is “a place we definitely need to look right now.”
Welcome to the grind.