After Saturday’s 8-1 embarrassment-filled drubbing at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres, the Carolina Hurricanes had nowhere to go but up Monday.
So that’s exactly where they went, playing one of the team’s best games this season in a 4-0 shutout of the host New York Rangers.
Fans too frightened to watch the game against the surging Rangers (who had won 12 of their last 16, with all four losses coming by a single goal) missed as complete a performance as the Canes have had all season: a great start, 60 minutes of commitment and team play, solid goaltending and an absence in the lapses of concentration and judgment that seem to have mysteriously plagued the team the latter half of November. It was the kind of confidence-builder the team desperately needed.
Whether it gets the team off the win-a-game, lose-a-game see-saw that characterized November is the question now.
Monday’s triumph followed an awful four-game, eight-day stretch in which Carolina had a single ugly, unlikely win sandwiched between three listless losses. And that was part of a 3-9 stretch that saw what was (at the time, anyway) the NHL’s highest-scoring team go 3-6 and get outscored by a 38-18 margin in those nine games.
The finger may not have been on the panic button, but the hand knew where it was.
The Hurricanes started the season 11-4-3 and trailed only the near-perfect Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference standings when their slide began with a 6-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Nov. 14. Carolina would extract some revenge with a win over the Lightning nine days later, but it was clear there were symptoms of pretty significant problems on the ice.
Goaltending. Cam Ward was the toast of the league in October, but he gave up plenty of soft goals and clearly was losing confidence as November rolled by. In addition, the Hurricanes continued their puzzling tradition of playing poorly in front of backup John Grahame – scoring just four goals in three games with Grahame in net, about one-third of their production in front of Ward.
Penalty-killing. Playing a man down hasn’t been an issue for the Hurricanes in recent years, but suddenly, in November, the team’s penalty-killing wasn’t only faltering, it was costing them games. While the sometimes-problematic power-play unit has been among the league’s 10 best most of the year, Carolina’s penalty-killing stands at 75 percent – worst in the league.
Scoring. Before the recent stretch of bad play, the Hurricanes were tops in the league in scoring by a comfortable margin, averaging four goals a game. Prior to Monday’s game, they had scored an average of just two per game since Nov. 14.
Turnovers. Injuries may have contributed to this, but the fact remains that until Monday’s game, the lack of chemistry between defensemen and forwards has limited the team’s strength – its speed – and contributed to creating scoring chances for the opposition because passes weren’t connecting.
Lack of fortitude. Two seasons ago, the Hurricanes made comebacks from two-goal deficits look routine. This season, they’re 0-6 when trailing after a period
Despite their recent troubles and a modest 7-6 record against divisional opponents, the Hurricanes still have a solid eight-point cushion in the Southeast Division. They’ll have a chance to extend that, and confirm Monday’s win as the beginning of a new kind of streak, when they face the team they’re having the most trouble with – Tampa Bay – on the road Thursday. Right now their end of the see-saw is up. Beating the Lightning will keep it that way.