Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters was calmer Monday, the anger gone.
Peters put his team through a 45-minute practice at PNC Arena, then gathered the players together near the Canes bench. He wordlessly tapped a whiteboard on the glass with his stick, then quickly left the ice.
Written on it: “Who are we? 29 games to find out”
Playoff team or not? Hard-working team or not?
In Peters’ mind, that will be settled in the final 29 games of the season.
Peters was anything but silent Sunday. After the Canes’ mostly miserable 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks, the coach angrily called out his players, saying their effort was unacceptable. He said the lineup would change for Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, arguably the Canes’ most important to this point in the season.
“You can’t put that group out again,” he said.
But the changes to the group, in fact, may be minimal. Peters said Monday there might be switch or two – say, defenseman Klas Dahlbeck possibly back in the lineup – for the Flyers, but that it was unlikely the Canes would call up players from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL and make wholesale changes.
“It’s not the lineup, that’s not what it is,” Peters said. “The answer is not in changing guys around. When the Titanic went down they reorganized the deck chairs there. It still sunk. Well, it did. So it’s not the deck chairs.
“There’s more to give. There’s more. We’ll get more.”
The Canes, who have 10 home games in February, will be playing the Flyers in the fifth of an eight-game homestand that is the team’s longest of the season. Carolina won the first two games, grinding out victories over Ottawa and Montreal, then played 120 often listless minutes in losing to the Detroit Red Wings and Sharks.
The Canes made glaring errors in defensive coverage in allowing the Sharks’ first two goals Sunday, leaving players unmarked for open shots at goalie Cam Ward.
“The effort we had was very poor and obviously coach said it and you could see it,” said defenseman Justin Faulk, a team co-captain. “It’s about getting back to playing for each other, playing hard and making sure the guy next to you knows you’re going to compete and do your job out there.”
The only positive: despite the two losses, the Canes (24-21-8) remained one point out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference after Sunday’s games. The Flyers held the second wild-card spot with 57 points.
“We’re still in a good spot,” Canes forward Elias Lindholm said. “Obviously we wanted to be higher up but we put ourselves in this position by not playing good enough. But there’s 29 games left.”
What’s troubling to Lindholm is the way the Canes have lost some games. As he put it, “Every time we’re getting it close we’re just falling apart.”
A year ago, the Canes had a number of one-goal losses or games lost in overtime or shootouts, Lindholm said. They were close, tight games.
“But in my years here, we’ve never as many breakdowns where we’re letting everybody down,” he said. “We’re not even giving ourselves a chance to win some games. It’s tough.”
The NHL’s baffling schedule has the Canes 53 games into the season and still without a game played against the Flyers or New Jersey Devils, two Metropolitan Division opponents. The Devils are second in the division with 62 points.
“It’s so tight and these head-to-head matchups are so key,” forward Brock McGinn said. “If we win our divisional games we’ll see a jump in the standings.”
But the Canes won’t do that without a commitment to playing better, about being more competitive, Peters said. Last year’s team, he said, formed that kind of identity.
“I don’t think this team has got to an identity they’re proud of on a consistent basis this year, and that’s what we have to do over the next 29 games,” Peters said. “We can be a hard-working team but I don’t see it right now. … It’s time for our team to be desperate and put its best foot forward.