There’s no question it’s both unfair and impossible to accurately judge a team that has played 15 percent of its road schedule before playing a single home game.
There’s also no question that something has been missing from the Carolina Hurricanes over their six road games to start the season, heading into Friday night’s home opener against the New York Rangers, and it isn’t just wins, of which the Hurricanes have only one. Nor is it consistent goaltending, which the Hurricanes have lacked; nor is it goals, which the Hurricanes have scored in spurts.
What the Hurricanes are missing is the identity they spent two years forging as a team that’s difficult to play against, that does things the right way, that plays the tight, disciplined style Bill Peters has instilled since his arrival.
Although their even-strength advanced shooting and possession stats remain among the best in the NHL, instead of holding the puck in the offensive zone and generating chances, they’re turning it over too easily, giving up too many chances the other way and spending too much time in their own zone. They have struggled to outshoot teams early and have been outscored 10-4 in the third period and overtime, evidence opposing teams aren’t worn down and have more left in the tank late.
“We’re scoring but we’re reckless in order to score,” Peters said Thursday. “I want to tighten up our game. Last year we had an identity as a team. I really liked the identity that we forged. It took us a while to get there. Unfortunately, this year, it’s taking us longer to get there. We haven’t got there yet. You’ll know when it’s clicking and right now it’s not clicking.”
Is it because Peters missed a good chunk of training camp at the World Cup? Maybe. (Peters pointed out the Hurricanes are in the bottom three in the NHL in goals allowed per game along with the Arizona Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs, whose coaches were also at the World Cup.)
Is it because the Hurricanes have eight new players who weren’t here a year ago, including three that arrived after training camp was complete? Perhaps.
Is it because the State Fair forced the Hurricanes to start the season on a six-game road trip? Could be.
Either way, the Hurricanes missed a golden opportunity to overcome that unfavorable scheduling and get a head-start on their season when they failed to do any better than 1-3-2 on this road trip, twice blowing three-goal leads. You can’t necessarily hold that record against them in those difficult circumstances, but it leaves them no margin for error at home now.
They have to turn these home games into points, and they have to keep doing it through Thanksgiving, at which point the NHL standings tend to ossify and separate the playoff contenders from the teams that face a long, painful slog to the finish.
They need stronger play from Cam Ward and Eddie Lack, who have the worst combined save percentage in the NHL, albeit in road games amid endemic defensive lapses. They need to generate more chances at even strength and turn more of those chances into goals.
Most of all, they need to get back to being the disciplined, grinding team that was so hard to play against the past two seasons but has too often been too easy to play against this season.
It’s not too late, and the numbers remain in the Hurricanes’ favor even if the standings do not, but they know they have to start now.
“It’s only six games,” Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk said. “It’s tough. We didn’t want to start that way. But there are 82 games in the season. We have time to correct it.”
The Hurricanes spent two years working to become something. Six games into this new season, they’re still trying to recapture what they became.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock
Rangers at Hurricanes
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
Tickets: Limited tickets are available for Friday’s home opener. Go to http://bit.ly/2eLacMk.