Rod Brind’Amour, as much as anyone, knows how fickle hockey can be.
And winning streaks.
Hours before the Carolina Hurricanes’ road game Tuesday against the New York Islanders, Brind’Amour was asked what the Canes were doing differently in winning four in a row.
“Nothing, really,” the Canes coach said. “I wish I could say, hey ... The puck’s just decided to go in. We’re not getting more chances. We’ve actually gotten less. It’s very strange how this game works.
“But we’ve capitalized. I think that’s the difference. The first 20 to 25 games we didn’t capitalize. The last three or four the puck’s gone in for us.”
The Canes (20-17-5) did it for a fifth time Tuesday in a 4-3 victory over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. They now have 21 goals on 145 shots in the winning streak -- 14.5 percent -- despite being outshot in three of the five games. The Islanders had 31 shots to Carolina’s 24.
Talk about timely goals. While the first period wasn’t the Canes best, it ended with a centering pass from Micheal Ferland hitting forward Greg McKegg in front of the net, the puck then nicking the skate of Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech and sliding past goalie Thomas Greiss.
In the Canes’ first three games against the Isles this year, all Carolina losses, Greiss was nearly flawless, nearly impenetrable, allowing three goals. In the first period Tuesday, he gave up a goal to rookie forward Saku Maenalanen -- the Finn’s first in the NHL -- and then the McKegg goal with six seconds left in the period as Carolina took a 2-1 lead to the locker room.
Brind’Amour said the game would test his team’s mental toughness and it did. With the score tied 2-2 late in the third, the Isles had a power play after a Justin Williams penalty but the Canes killed it off and Williams scored soon after leaving the penalty box. The Canes then scored on a power play, Jaccob Slavin with the shot, for a 4-2 lead.
After a stretch when the Canes went seven games without a power-play goal, they have scored five during the winning streak. They’ve allowed three power-play goals but picked up a shorthanded goal from Brock McGinn in the 5-4 road win Sunday against the Ottawa Senators.
The Canes’ mental toughness also was tested in that game. A 4-2 lead quickly evaporated but a power-play goal by Williams won it.
Williams said he likes the confident vibe the team has, saying, “It’s good because we haven’t really played our best hockey yet we’re finding ways to win games. That’s what good teams do. Hopefully we’ll wind it up and be better next game.”
The Canes’ next game is against the best team in the NHL in terms of record (33-8-2) and points (68) -- the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are 18-4-0 at home. That will finish up a three-game road trip for Carolina in which the Canes have continued to play without center Jordan Staal, who is recovering from concussion symptoms.
Staal has been out since Dec. 22, when he left the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was first sidelined with a concussion for five games, returned to play against Detroit and then the Penguins, and now has missed the past eight games.
Brind’Amour has often noted how much the Canes miss the veteran forward, their best checking center and face-off man. Staal’s absence has caused center Lucas Wallmark to take on more of that defensive responsibility and Wallmark, for the most part, has handled it well.
Center Clark Bishop, recalled Dec. 26 from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, was injured during the Jan. 3 game at Philadelphia -- a 5-3 Canes win. That resulted in McKegg being called up from the Checkers.
Talk about an instant impact. McKegg had a goal and assist, and was named the game’s first star in his first game, a 4-2 win over Columbus on Friday. Moved up to center the third line Tuesday, he also had a goal and assist against the Islanders in the third game since his recall from the Checkers.
The defense also has done its part in finding the net. Dougie Hamilton, frustrated offensively much of the season, scored in three straight games and Slavin has goals in the past two.
“Our D need to be on the scoresheet,” Brind’Amour said of the defensemen.
The Canes continue to have the lowest shooting percentage in the league (7.6 percent). But they’re 12th on the penalty kill and now tied for 22nd on the power play.
The goaltending, with Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek, has been solid enough. The two have faced 146 shots during the winning streak, allowing 13 goals for a .917 save percentage.
The Canes need Staal back in the lineup but his return, after a concussion, remains indefinite. A week, two weeks, two months? No one can say.
That uncertainty makes Brind’Amour uneasy, but the Canes move on, as he said, trying to “scratch and claw our way back into it.”