Peter Koutroumpis – Managing Editor
RALEIGH, N.C. – A 3-0 shutout loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday extended the Carolina Hurricanes’ current losing streak to five games heading into the National Hockey League’s (NHL) All-Star weekend.
What’s more concerning is that the Hurricanes have been outscored 23-5 during those games.
Thus, a three-day respite is a good time for some reflection.
What has gone wrong recently with what was a relatively ‘hot’ and confident team?
With as big as some of their losses have been, on the surface of it, poor defensive play, and more specifically a lack of effective execution and coverage in its own end, would be Carolina’s weakness.
Some blame goaltender Cam Ward’s return to normalcy as part of that downward trend
Well, partly so.
After putting together 10 wins over their prior 15 games, part of a 10-4-1 run, before losing 4-1 to Columbus on Jan. 17, it seemed that the Hurricanes had their scoring problems solved.
Offensive production has been a problem in recent seasons and it looked to still be so earlier in this year.
However, surges in scoring produced results that might have suggested they had cured that ill, even while the Hurricanes worked to hit a winning groove like they followed in November.
A small lapse around Thanksgiving was the first glimpse that big problems could arise.
During a 10-game period from Nov. 24th until Dec. 10th, Carolina posted a 3-5-2 record with an average scoring pace of 2.4 goals per game compared to 2.6 goals per game against.
Not earth-shattering news that more scoring was needed to win games.
Head coach Bill Peters called for it, but it didn’t happen quickly.
You know why?
Because the team’s top scorers – Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Tuevo Teravainen, Lee Stempniak, Justin Faulk, and Elias Lindholm – went through various consecutive-game scoring droughts at the same time.
No goals or assists at all for any combination of those players for long stretches – three, four, five-plus consecutive games – meant trouble for the Hurricanes.
Then a few of them rose out of their scoreless slumbers and helped put a winning run together that began with the crazy 8-6 win over Vancouver on Dec. 13th.
A few, not all of them, produced at the same time.
It was Carolina’s role players – the ‘bottom 6’ – who helped carry loads with goals at opportune times that helped push them up to a production level of 3.4 goals per game while keeping goals against to a 2.73 level.
Though it was great for the fans to see the team scoring and winning and playing exciting hockey in doing so, was it a house of cards that could fall at any point?
When they endured that 3-5-2 stretch, Skinner alternated in with scoring while Rask was pointless in nine of those games, part of separate six and four-game runs.
Teravainen was mired in an eight-game successive pointless period, along with Stempniak’s seven-game, Aho’s five-game, Lindholm’s four-game, and Staal’s three-game offensive shutouts.
Note that both Lindholm and Staal then incurred injuries and missed games on IR, thus couldn’t provide any possibility of scoring goals.
It makes total sense, and it provided a glimpse of the worst-case scenario that would unfortunately soon arise.
While outscoring opponents 51-41 during its winning stretch that abruptly came to an end following a 7-4 win over the New York Islanders on Jan. 14, the team’s fluid defensive play and pace was overshadowed by the offensive production.
The multiple small but compounding errors in competing for pucks at 100-percent speed and intensity in their own zone could be overlooked because the offensive production offset them.
Faulk’s four-game IR stint, along with three straight scoreless games (or seven in a row without a point), hindered the team’s production.
Staal had a three-game scoreless period early in the run, while Aho went three straight games without a point during the end of it.
Peters still was trying to espouse sound defensive play and pace of play even while enjoying the offensive production and wins.
He let up on the reins, showing he finally had confidence in this team to go about their business and run the proverbial track meets against any and all opponents.
Then lighting struck!
Not one, not two, not three, but four scorers at the top of the Hurricanes’ production sheet hit concerning consecutive-game scoreless streaks.
Following the loss to the Kings, Skinner and Rask have now played six in a row without a point while Stempniak and Teravainen are at four and three, respectively.
Aho (2g, 1a), Lindholm (2a), Staal (1g) and Faulk (1g) have recorded points in the last five games – but not many.
Thus, it is not surprising where the problem lies for the Hurricanes as they prepare to stay in contention for a playoff spot during their final 34 games of the season.
Yes, they have to play better team defense and provide Ward a decent chance to make his reasonable efforts satisfactory to produce wins.
But, if Carolina’s offensive producers continue to linger through three, four, five-plus game scoreless periods of time all together, it is more than likely that more losses will accumulate than wins.
Thus, coming out of the break, Peters’ comment following the loss to L.A. comes full circle – “it’ll be like starting over.”
Indeed it will.