'It's a step in the right direction,' says Canes' Lindholm
Forty-eight hours after Bill Peters spoke the truth about his team, he was back to spinning acceptable into excellence. Was the Carolina Hurricanes' effort better Tuesday night? Sure. But it was a low bar to clear.
Some of this team's problems go beyond effort. You're not going to make the playoffs scoring seven goals in the first five games of an eight-game homestand – only four at even strength. You're not going to make it dominating overtime only to miss a golden chance at one end (Jordan Staal) and give up a soft goal along the ice with 3.1 seconds to play (Cam Ward) at the other end for a 2-1 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
But Peters said he was happy with what he called a “real good” effort that saw the Hurricanes muster a pathetic two shots on goal in a third period when both teams sat back and played for the guaranteed loser point. It's one thing for the Flyers to do that on the road. To be that passive at home, in the desperate straits this team is in, was an inadvertent and ironic mirror of Ron Francis' management style.
You may remember that Peters said after Sunday's disaster, among other things, that “we can’t put that group out again after that. It’s unacceptable.” He was right about that. Then he went ahead and put essentially the same group out again after that. Phil Di Giuseppe, who still hasn't scored in 14 months, drew in for Marcus Kruger while Klas Dahlbeck was an upgrade over Haydn Fleury and Elias Lindholm moved to center, but 16 of the 18 skaters were the same.
The impasse raises interesting questions about the relationship between Peters and Francis at this point. Peters demanded changes and mentioned there were some young players tearing it up in the AHL. (There are.) But there were no roster changes of any kind and Peters seemed resigned to that fate Monday. (If Josh Jooris couldn't get into the lineup under these circumstances, what's the point in not putting him on waivers and getting a look at someone in Charlotte?) If Peters was trying to send a message to his general manager Sunday, the message came back stamped “return to sender.” If they're on the same page, then Peters was full of phony bluster. Something's off here.
The dressing room, at least, seemed to get the message – which is good, since a lack of response to such public humiliation would have been … even more humiliating. Among Sunday's passengers, Lindholm and Justin Faulk were both more effective Tuesday, and the Hurricanes were certainly better overall. Lindholm's power-play goal was a just reward for his performance in the middle. Given Sunday's effort level was rated roughly “hot garbage,” just about anything would have been an improvement. This was progress, not vindication – not at home, not with these stakes against the competition for what is essentially the fifth playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. And not everyone was better, especially the Noah Hanifin-Trevor van Riemsdyk pairing, which was embarrassed on the Flyers’ first goal.
For all that, the game – or the bonus point, anyway – turned on one sequence in the final 40 seconds of overtime. The Hurricanes had dominated overtime to no avail, and Staal had maybe the best chance of all, an open look from the slot. Flyers goalie Brian Elliott got a piece of it, but Claude Giroux knocked it out of midair before it could cross the goal line. Staal, bereft, said afterward he thought it might have been going wide anyway. Then Giroux dove back in front of the net to deny Skinner on the rebound.
Giroux's will would end up being the difference for the Flyers. The puck went the other way and Jordan Weal beat Ward – who was otherwise terrific, especially when short-handed – with a harmless-looking unscreened shot from in front. Given Ward's record in shootouts, the result was probably inevitable at that point, but it certainly hurt more this way.
So the Hurricanes made progress, even if it would have been almost impossible not to make any, and still managed to lose ground in the standings. Peters put a happy spin on all of it, but given everything that didn't happen since Sunday, who can take his words at face value now?
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock