Troubling loss to Red Wings keeps Canes’ doors closed

Wings hand Canes tough loss

Carolina Hurricanes captain Justin Williams says the team wasn't mentally strong enough to stick with the game plan during a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at PNC Arena on Dec. 20, 2018.
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Carolina Hurricanes captain Justin Williams says the team wasn't mentally strong enough to stick with the game plan during a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at PNC Arena on Dec. 20, 2018.

The minutes passed, five, then 10, before the Carolina Hurricanes finally opened their locker room to the media Thursday night.

A somber group awaited.

A 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings did not sit well with anyone in the room. Certainly not with team captain Justin Williams.

“Mentally we’re not tough enough,” he said. “We’re not mentally strong enough to stay with our game plan when things go wrong.”

In the first period Thursday, the Canes outshot and out-chanced the Wings, who had lost four in a row. Sebastian Aho had a good chance to score. Lucas Wallmark had one. Jordan Staal hit the crossbar with a rising shorthanded shot.

Instead, the Wings led 1-0 after one.

Not long after Staal’s near-miss, Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall scored on the power play after a clearing attempt by the Canes’ Jordan Martinook found his stick at the point.

In the second period, Andrei Svechnikov tied the score, the rookie again giving his team a lift with a bullet of a shot. But once the Wings reclaimed the lead, Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said, the players tried to do too much, got “too cute.” Passes were forced, leading to turnovers. Shots were rushed, missing the net.

The game plan remains the same each game, Brind’Amour said, for the Canes: use their speed for breakouts and to get in on the forecheck, creating scoring opportunities.

“We’ve got to stick with what we’re doing and believe in it,” Brind’Amour said. “That’s the real crux of it all -- you have to believe your game plan is good enough to win.

“I know it is. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen us play head-to-head against all the good teams. When we do it right we’re fine and when we don’t it’s a problem.”

Then again, it wasn’t all about the Hurricanes this night. The Red Wings had a game plan, too. They made theirs work.

Goalie Jonathan Bernier did his part, stopping 38 shots, making the timely saves, especially in that first period. The Wings had good net presence in front of Canes goalie Petr Mrazek, setting screens, crowding the crease and at times getting a piece of the puck.

Frans Nielsen scored what would be the winning goal on a tip for a 2-1 lead. And the Wings’ forecheck in the final two periods was effective after much of the first was played in the Detroit end.

“People have to understand you can’t play a 60-minute game and have zero turnovers and expect to have no chances against,” Brind’Amour said. “But you want to make them earn their stripes. Make sure it’s a turnover where their guy made a good play and not that we had the puck and we handed it to them. Those are the things we can’t afford to do.

“When we’re playing in their end and we’re doing it right we just don’t give up chances. When we start to do it a bit differently ...”

The Canes began their five-game homestand by losing a 4-1 lead to the Washington Capitals and then the game 6-5 in a shootout. That can happen when you face the Stanley Cup champions and probaby will happen when Alex Ovechkin has a hat trick, as he did that night.

A 3-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday was cleansing for the Canes’ psyches. Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Warren Foegele scored goals, Mrazek had his first shutout of the season and Canes fans enjoyed guessing what the post-game celebration would be.

But the Canes couldn’t fight through it Thursday. Svechnikov scored for the 1-1 tie but the Red Wings took over from there, frustrating the Canes. That’s why there was the longer-than-usual coaches and players get-together after the game -- or as Brind’Amour called it, a “little talk.”

The message?

“You look at the games we’ve played well and we win, its not a hard formula to pick through,” Martinook said. “I don’t know what it is about our group that we get antsy when we’re not scoring or whatever, but you look at our group and how we’re successful and it’s so simple. And it’s so fun to play. That first period was fun. But for whatever reason we take our foot off the gas and then they’re coming in on us.”

And then doors stay closed. And there is that somberness.

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.