RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes were shut out 1-0 by the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. on Wednesday.
It was Carolina’s third consecutive road loss, and came as a result of not one of the Hurricanes’ 33 shots on goal getting past Panthers goalkeepers Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya.
A scoreless performance on three power play opportunities didn’t help to tie the game either as Panthers center Nick Bjugstad’s eighth goal of the season just 21 seconds following the opening puck drop became the eventual game-winner.
Center Victor Rask had the best scoring opportunity to tie the game for Carolina when he cleanly beat Luongo on a toe-drag deke.
However, Luongo quickly recovered and made a sprawling glove save as Rask released a backhand shot towards the yawning, open net.
It was highlight-reel save and one that put the exclamation mark on what the game truly represented.
In making the stop, Luongo seemed to have injured himself and in stepped Montoya, cold off the bench, to take over and not miss a beat in adding 22 more stops to Luongo’s previous 11.
Was it stellar goaltending that beat Carolina?
However, the glaring absence of the Hurricanes’ top scorers, Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner, played right into the hands of the opposing team.
It’s been that way for the past few years.
Ask players from any opposing team who they have to make sure to keep off the sheet from the Hurricanes’ roster, and it’s Staal and Skinner who they always mention.
How they go, so does the team.
They add in a few remarks on how good a goaltender Cam Ward is when he’s on his game, and you have every opposing team’s scouting report on the Hurricanes in a nutshell.
This is not a secret or some kind of epiphany.
It is simply who and what Carolina has been, is and will continue to be.
Case in point is the team’s recent performance over the past week.
Following a 2-0 loss against San Jose at PNC Arena on Nov. 18, Carolina let loose with a scoring barrage at Dallas two days later in a 6-4 win.
It was a shockingly pleasant occurrence, and one that made anyone following this team say, ‘where did that come from?’, and was probably followed up by, ‘finally, that’s what this team needs to do to win’.
The bright spot through that stretch was that Staal and Skinner were all of a sudden on three-game point streaks – three goals and two assists for Staal, and two goals and three assists for Skinner.
That’s what they carried with them to Sunrise, and that’s where all of it ended as quickly as it began.
Even Nathan Gerbe’s three-game streak (1g, 2a) came to an end against the Panthers as the four shots on goal he had couldn’t do the job to score an equalizer.
No one else was able to put a puck in the net against the Panthers either, including Jiri Tlusty and Elias Lindholm, the Hurricanes’ other ‘top’ goal scorers to date.
Thus, it was Rask who had the best opportunity to do so, and didn’t.
It highlighted the point of where the Hurricanes are, sitting with a 6-12-3 record and heading into a back-to-back set with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday and Saturday.
Relying on a rookie or under-the-radar role player to pull this underachieving team out of its doldrums can work once, maybe twice, even three times in a season.
However, to rely on such a circumstance every game will not change the true problem that the team’s top scorers aren’t getting it done.
It’s not the point of being due to a lack of effort or battling through injury on the players’ part, it’s just a reality that has to be confronted – it is simply not working for them or the Hurricanes the way it needs to – not anymore.
Unless monumental changes are made to this team’s top end soon, the results will continue to be the same – mixed.
Winning and losing, with many gut-wrenching one-goal deficits and shutouts to come, and another postseason opportunity missed will be the end result.
What started against Florida, will only be illuminated more against the Penguins over the next few days.
If not against them, then against another team soon afterward.