Just 12 games into the season, the Carolina Hurricanes could be at a crossroads, the urgency rapidly escalating.
The Canes are 4-5-3 and winless in their last four games after losses to Colorado and Arizona last week. As Canes coach Bill Peters said Monday, “Everyone in this sport is aware of what happens when the calendar clicks into November and when you get to Thanksgiving. Everyone knows what those numbers dictate.”
In short, teams with strong starts to the season have stockpiled points, are in solid playoff positions and rarely give them up. The rest are left to play catchup, often futilely, the rest of the season. That’s what the numbers dictate.
The Canes, out of the playoffs the past eight seasons, need points – now. They play seven of the next 10 games at home, the road games against Columbus, the New York Islanders and Buffalo.
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“There’s 70 (games) left but it’s time,” Peters said. “It’s time to play quality hockey on a consistent basis.”
What needs to change?
“I think our preparation could be better,” co-captain Jordan Staal said. “I think we need to be more mentally ready than anything. I think our starts to our games have to be better and the continuation, staying with it, staying with the plan, could be better.
“And then being confident offensively. I think we’ve been a little frustrated lately, getting chances but not putting them in. We need to stay confident in our abilities to score goals and create offensively.”
Against the Coyotes, the worst team in the NHL, the Canes did not score until late in regulation against goalie Antti Raanta. Staal banged home a shot off a Sebastian Aho pass for a 1-1 tie with 2:25 left in the third.
Then came overtime and more frustration. The Canes maintained puck possession much of the five minutes and had five shots but couldn’t convert. It was on to the shootout and another loss, although Brock McGinn did have a shootout goal for Carolina.
Against the Anaheim Ducks in their last home game, the Canes had nine overtime shots – Aho and Victor Rask each had breakaways – and could not end it. Another shootout loss.
Again, what needs to change, in overtime?
“You can have all the chances you want, but we need to find a way to score, right?” said defenseman Justin Faulk, the Canes’ other co-captain. “In tight games you have to bear down, step up and bury it.”
Aho is still looking to bury his first this season. Few would have expected the second-year forward from Finland to go the first 12 games without a goal, a near repeat of his rookie year. He has seven assists but no goals.
It’s hit and miss offensively with the rest of the forwards – Justin Williams, for example, has one goal but a team-high eight assists. There’s little help from the back end as the Canes defensemen have four goals as a group, two by Jaccob Slavin.
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Faulk, who had a career-high 17 goals in 75 games last season, has one in the first 12 games. With little threat elsewhere on the blue line, Faulk has found shooting lanes hard to find as teams come out to challenge the defenseman’s shot.
“There’s always room for everyone to get better, especially when things aren’t going well,” Faulk said. “I don’t think there’s many guys who can look at their own game and say it’s been perfect, let alone when the team has been struggling a bit. I think it’s a matter of focusing it in for 60 minutes.
“Against Colorado we have 60 shots but we give up five goals (in a 5-3 loss). Arizona, we give up one and we only score one. It’s a matter of putting it all together. It’s a full mix. I think everybody is gripping it a little tighter right now.”
The Canes’ power play has been too static of late, with Faulk saying it “needs to improve 100 percent,” with better passing. Carolina’s penalty killing, usually a strength, also needs more work.
The Canes aren’t winning and it’s November. As Peters said, it’s time, or time can quickly run out.
Florida Panthers at Carolina Hurricanes
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh.