RALEIGH, N.C. – Without sitting on the plane or bus with the Carolina Hurricanes on their current road trip that now has taken them to California to take on the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, one has to wonder how much tension has accumulated in the coaches’ and players’ minds and bodies.
After saying that they were refreshed and prepared to work to put themselves in a playoff spot following the Olympic break, back-to-back-losses to the Buffalo Sabres (3-2) and Dallas Stars (4-1) has placed them farther behind than ahead of other teams with similar aspirations.
Head coach Kirk Muller offered up a little bit of where his team’s mindset was after the loss to the Stars.
“For whatever reason we didn’t have enough guys ready to go to start this game,” he said.
“Then we just chased the game after that.”
Using the word ‘chase’ seemed apropos for the Carolina coach to use as his team now sits five and seven points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings respectively.
Scoring a combined five goals in their last three games as part of their current three-game losing streak that picked up after the break, and includes a 4-1 loss to Montreal back on Feb. 8, the Hurricanes’ inability to score continues to be their biggest road block on their journey to the playoffs.
It isn’t a new challenge, but one that now magnifies itself exponentially with every game that results in a loss.
True, sound defensive play will result in transition and offensive opportunities and getting pucks to the net.
Mission accomplished for the Hurricanes who outshot the Canadiens and Sabres and placed only four less shots on net than the Stars did.
The system that Carolina has been playing under all season does work and the players have been getting their chances to score.
However, the number of shots on net has not translated into increasing the quality of those shots ending up in the net and more times so than the opposition.
At this point in the season, every team in the National Hockey League (NHL) is working to peak in its defensive game and will get key performances from their goaltenders.
Are the Hurricanes capable of increasing their scoring output?
They’ve had ample opportunities to do so on the power play all season, but have shown that to be less of an advantage than otherwise, currently sitting 29th (28-207, 13.5%) in the league rankings in that category.
No longer will it be enough to take to the ice, put in an effort, and be in it without actually winning it.
Throughout the season this Carolina team has shown flashes of possessing the talent and ability to win but unfortunately not consistently enough to have anyone believe they are capable of doing it often.
Call it a lack of confidence, but the results speak for themselves.
Inconsistent results present less positive expectations and hope.
Facing the Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks over the next four days, the Hurricanes have very long strides to make and get back into the tussle with other teams vying for a spot in the postseason.
Though their quest to make the playoffs is not over, every missed scoring opportunity and resulting loss that they accumulate from here on it will make it less possible for them to deny it as not being a problem any longer.