RALEIGH, N.C. – It’s heart-breaking to lose close games, particularly when you’ve put in considerable effort to gain the lead and hold on for a win.
That is the current challenge facing the Carolina Hurricanes who head into their matchup with the Los Angeles Kings at PNC Arena on Sunday.
Suffering a 2-1 five-round, shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday was the third game in Carolina’s last four that it held the lead, but gave it up by the end of regulation time.
They’re now winless in five.
They lost in back-to-back overtimes in almost identical 3-2 losses to Minnesota and Philadelphia last weekend, while a 4-1 loss to Anaheim following that just showed that mental as well as physical fatigue had set in.
With three days to prepare for Toronto, the challenge of scoring goals still existed, and they played another low-scoring, tight-checking game against one of the NHL’s Original Six franchises.
It was impressive to watch a role player like Brad Malone, who was a healthy scratch for four straight games, play his style of game to finish with seven hits as well as posting the team’s only goal – his first of the season.
However, a prime opportunity to score early, a 5-on-3 sequence, went with nary a shot taken due to tentative passing and looking for the perfect shot.
Having passes intercepted happens, but not repeatedly during the same play.
That seems to indicate that the hands on many players’ sticks, those of the teams’ apparent top players, have tightened considerably.
That’s what happens when you don’t feel relaxed or confident when optimal scoring situations arise.
The passing slows and becomes easy to defend, and the shot-taking becomes tentative as players look to find the perfect shot selection.
Head coach Bill Peters said as much following practice on Saturday.
“Now it’s probably gotten to be as much mental as much as it is physical,” he said of the team’s offensive specialty units’ play.
“It doesn’t look like the power play goes over the boards with a lot of confidence,” Peters said.
Obviously, Carolina can’t play that way against the Kings, particularly when they have the opportunity to score.
“Generating Grade A opportunities (to score) will be at a premium,” Peters continued.
“And (need to have) the ability to finish them off.”
Thus, while stating that the team has to be “dynamic in the offensive zone” and “to be efficient” while there, the bottom line is the sticking point that has the head coach wondering himself what is still missing.
“Just the finish – the ability to score on those opportunities,” he said.
“Whether it’s in the first, second, or third, it’s throughout the game where we haven’t finished on our quality chances.”
While everyone watching continues to wonder why the players aren’t able to finish, the question will also have to come down to what the coaching staff must do to help the players get the ‘finish’ that is constantly eluding this team.
One-on-one heart-to-heart sessions, group-think sessions, mindfulness and yoga training – who knows – but whatever it is, jumping right back onto the ice and shooting pucks without a purpose to re-develop confidence that has obviously been lost is not working.
If their minds aren’t right and ready to finish the job, don’t expect the results to be right either.
The Hurricanes’ battle with the scoreboard continues.