It’s November, and here the Carolina Hurricanes are again. Same old spot. Behind the 8-ball. Trying to fight their way up the standings. Already running out of time.
This season was supposed to be different, but it wasn’t, and the Hurricanes find themselves back in a familiar, and frequently fatal, position.
They had their chances to avoid this. They had three-goal leads in their first two games but could manage only two points. They were up 3-2 on the Philadelphia Flyers at home late in the second period and lost 4-3 in regulation. They outplayed the Ottawa Senators on the road Tuesday but could score only one goal and lost in overtime.
There’s no getting around where they are now: last place in the Eastern Conference, four points out of a playoff spot going into Thursday’s games but with eight teams to pass.
All of which adds up to a desperate situation less than a month into the season. The NHL standings don’t change much after Thanksgiving, and while the Hurricanes still have a dozen or so games to get into position to challenge for a playoff spot, they absolutely have to make the most of them, starting this weekend with games Saturday at the Nashville Predators and Sunday at home against the New Jersey Devils.
That Flyers loss had the immediate feel of the kind of game that stands out when you miss the playoffs in April. It still did for Peters on Thursday. That one will be tough to shake.
“Those are the types of the games that we’re talking about,” Peters said. “Those are the differences between making the step and closing ground on teams or not. Especially when you look at the Philadelphia game, at the time they were ahead of us in the standings, a team in our division, and you beat them in regulation all of a sudden you’re closing the gap.”
We know where we’re at. We also know that at some point, playing at home, we have to take advantage of that.
Canes coach Bill Peters
It’s hard to pick out a single factor for this 2-4-3 start. Overtime continues to be a persistent issue, with the Hurricanes 0-3. The goaltending has been erratic, although Cam Ward was nothing short of outstanding in the home opener against the New York Rangers.
The addition of Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho was supposed to jump-start the offense, but they haven’t given the Hurricanes anything they didn’t get from Nathan Gerbe and Riley Nash. Expectations for Aho were always way out of sync, but Teravainen’s lack of production is troubling – and neither has been helped by playing extensively with Elias Lindholm, whose lack of production is even more troubling.
And while Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce have picked up where they left off last year for the most part, the rest of the defense has lagged behind – Justin Faulk in particular looks a step behind – and the inability to fill the sixth blue-line spot has been a huge liability, with none of Jakub Nakladal, Klas Dahlbeck or Ryan Murphy looking like the answer.
There is reason for optimism. The Ottawa performance, while not good enough offensively, offered signs the Hurricanes are rediscovering the identity that made them tough to play against in the first two seasons under Peters. Jeff Skinner has been nothing short of tremendous. Lee Stempniak has been an excellent addition. Victor Rask has been productive. The special teams have been solid. Teravainen will start scoring at some point.
What the Hurricanes don’t have is time. Their season is hanging in the balance now – not in January, not in March, but now. They can’t afford to lag behind, or this season will end up like so many of the others before it.
They know this, from difficult experience.
“The guys are a very intelligent group,” Peters said. “We know where we’re at. We also know that at some point, playing at home, we have to take advantage of that.”
It’s still early, but it’s getting awfully late for the Hurricanes.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock