RALEIGH, N.C. – With 18 NHL regular-season games remaining, there are two things that can be expected of the Carolina Hurricanes.
They will not stray from playing their system and they are playing to win.
The team’s style of play, inspired and instilled by head coach Bill Peters has taken time to hone and tweak, and up to this point, it seems that every player on the roster has finally bought into it.
“The biggest thing that we have to understand is that it’s team first and individual rights get sacrificed for team rights,” Peters said.
“You gotta’ play hard. If you don’t play hard in our system and you make mistakes, we look bad. Because it’s a little bit of pressure and it’s trusting that everybody’s in the right spot. Then all of a sudden, when somebody’s not there, the middle’s open against Chicago (for example), and we look bad. Or a little pop pass in the middle and the timing’s not right, we look bad. But when you earn each other’s trust and know that the guy’s gonna’ be there, then you can execute and play with speed, and that’s what we’re workin’ towards.”
As well as they started against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, the Hurricanes were caught by surprise and trailed by three goals before they put six straight in and turned the game around to eventually win 7-4.
“I don’t think we were playin’ as bad as the score showed,” center Jay McClement said when reflecting back on the game after practice on Monday.
“It was good to see that we stuck with it. We didn’t get away from what we were doin’. We had tons of chances. They buried a couple of opportunities. I think we showed some maturity on our team. We didn’t panic and take unnecessary opportunities. We knew we were earning them. It didn’t feel like a 3-0 game to us.”
The turnaround against Edmonton not only provided those in attendance an exhilarating game worth paying to watch, but sent a message that this team was not going to give up, even at this point in the season.
McClement’s use of the word maturity was intriguing.
It was a specific term to describe the desired outcome of the process Peters has had this team following all year.
Still sitting in last place in the Metropolitan Division with 57 points and 19 back of a wildcard spot, Carolina is faced with the reality that it will likely not compete in the postseason for a sixth straight season.
“Everyone talks of getting’ into the playoffs,” McClement continued.
“It’s disappointing that you’re not there, but we have a lot of pride in this room. You can tell by the way we’ve played since January.”
McClement is one of only a handful of players on the team’s current roster who has recent experience in the postseason, having played in seven games with Toronto back in 2013.
He understands how hard a team must work to earn one of those 16 spots.
McClement also understands what Carolina must do at this point in the season to help itself eventually get there.
“You have to build every year towards the playoffs,” he said.
“It’s tough to get into the playoffs. You have to play solid all year long. Obviously, that’s something that didn’t happen this year for multiple reasons. It’s a long season and you have to get off to a good start. The better you can finish, have everyone coming in next year with some confidence and set some expectations for ourselves for sure. We’ve proven the last little while that we can compete, and do the things we want to do, play the way we need to play.”
Hurricanes fans should know that McClement and his teammates will pull on their jerseys each night intending to win more hockey games than losing them.
Sure, on the outside there’s much talk of a deep incoming draft class, and that finishing near the bottom will yield a team high dividends with a talented pick, but for the current players in the room, there are still many pucks left to be dropped and chased after.
“There’s always something to play for,” McClement said.
“There’s a lot of hockey left to play. Even though the end result can’t be the playoffs this year, for the most part, there’s gonna’ be a big group of us back next year, so you gotta’ work towards that. All different experiences, like last night (against Edmonton) when you don’t panic, just goin’ through those experiences, and to have a positive outcome from those, you build towards next year. Just make things that much easier to get in those situations earlier in the season. That’s what happened this year. That’s what we have to build towards playin’ hard every night.”