RALEIGH, N.C. – Coming off their second consecutive preseason loss in as many days, a 7-3 drubbing at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes will pick up the pace entering the second week of training camp.
They have to.
Aside from playing two split squads, the first of which suffered a 2-0 shutout loss to the Washington Capitals on Monday, head coach Bill Peters and his staff have very little time or patience to continue doing what has plagued this team for the past six years – playing without enough urgency, speed, and offensive finish to win more games than lose them.
Peters said as much following camp practice on Wednesday.
“I didn’t like some of the compete (level) – at times I don’t think we’ve competed hard enough,” Peters said.
“Some guys caught on a big stage maybe, not quite ready, but that’s what this time of year is for. Disappointed in the work ethic part of it. The compete obviously not something you can sweep under the rug. We’ll learn from it and move on.”
This is not new, and coming from the team’s third coach in five seasons, the theme is the same.
A majority of players will soon make their way to Charlotte to open camp with the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate.
That’s more or less how the team practiced Wednesday at PNC Arena as Peters reassembled the remaining players at camp.
“The teams are no longer Group A and Group B,” Peters said.
“It’s an NHL group that went today at 11 o’clock, and it’s a younger group goin’ on at one o’clock. Now out of that younger group who is gonna move up and down the lineup here – there’s gonna be some changes – but it wasn’t so cut and dried Group A and Group B. Now it’s an NHL practice, and I think guys responded properly.”
The training wheels are officially off after Week One.
This team must make improvement much more quickly, and with results to show for it.
If not, it will be another long season of ‘good, but not good enough’ finishes that will bring this team short of making the playoffs again.
That is the wrong focus.
They are competitive and working hard to provide NHL-quality play and experience to achieve at the levels they are expected to at this point in their careers.
However, they must begin to pass the torch, in order for newer leadership to emerge.
That has to come from the team’s younger corps and the expectations are now heightened for them.
Peters directed his comments as such, specifically about the play of Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, and Victor Rask against Pittsburgh.
He has begun to, and will push them to play at a level they never have in terms of intensity, speed, and finish.
Is that a lot to ask?
No, and it is justified.
It will not be Staal and Ward entirely keeping this team behind as many think.
Rather, it will be those young players not stepping up to move the team’s performance forward and to win more games.
That will be Carolina’s most significant progression towards success – to increase its pace and tempo in the way it skates, passes, and finishes offensively.
Predictability of pace and lack of finish are problems that have plagued the Hurricanes all of these years.
Year after year, the expectations deferred to the play of Staal and Ward, but the changing of the guard must take place now and during this preseason.
Opposing teams have to see a different Carolina squad.
Otherwise, the Hurricanes will continue to be easy to defend against, just like they have been for years.
It’s an issue that Peters had to address and began to.
The only way the team’s style of play in terms of tempo will change is for Skinner, Lindholm, and Rask to lead that pace.
If they don’t, Peters will let them know about it.
He wasn’t particularly happy with their play in Pittsburgh.
“There wasn’t enough there for me,” Peters said.
“You gotta be able to play against the best players in the world. They had two good lineups out there, and I didn’t think the Rask line was able to compete against those guys. They’re young kids. I don’t know if was because it was a preseason game, I don’t know. They weren’t up to that quality.”
The theme is clear that scoring must be a priority for players like Skinner, Lindholm, and Rask.
They will be expected to put the puck in the net, and if not, they have to find others who will be able to do it.
Carolina is not close to where it needs to be – not yet.
It must move quickly to get there though, so expect the team’s performances during the remaining preseason games to quickly finalize this season’s lineup.
Will the current camp list of NHLers, along with a few prospects, play at the pace and tempo needed to become a playoff team?
Maybe, but there’s a lot of work to do so.
“We have room for growth everywhere – every area of the game,” Peters said.
“Offensively, we’re gonna have a huge focus on that, but in saying that we don’t wanna lose a good foundation in being a good team defensively, limiting shots and quality of opportunities. All three zones we’ve gotta work on.”