The Carolina Hurricanes came into Sunday’s game against Pacific Division-leading San Jose worried about the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and the NHL’s best road power play.
The Canes left the ice shaking their heads wondering how the franchise-worst record losing streak continued at the hands of guys most hockey followers would have a hard time naming.
Kent Huskins, Brad Staubitz and Douglas Murray – who came into the game with a combined nine goals in 422 NHL games -- scored second-period goals after the Canes took a rare lead these days en route to a 5-1 loss to the Sharks – the team’s ninth straight defeat.
“We’re all taken aback (by the poor start) and that’s part of it,” coach Paul Maurice said as he’s seen his club sink to 29th out of 30 NHL teams. “Things you’ve seen work well in the past hasn’t worked well and areas you expected to be strong – the forecheck game, controlling the puck in the offensive zone and getting pucks to the net – haven’t and that surprises the hell out of everybody.”
The last victory for the Canes came on Oct. 9 against Florida. Take out that seven-goal effort and the team has scored just 20 goals in their other 12 games.
“We’ve got two days to change the mental focus and you’ve got to start with two or three things that you can consistently do well every night regardless of the score or the outcome,” Maurice said. “We’ve got to get better goaltending, we’ve got to get a stronger, physical presence from our back end and we’ve to get a more determined effort from our players up front.”
To make matters worse, three-time All-Star Eric Staal was lost in the third period to an upper body injury. His status for Wednesday’s game at Florida is unclear at this point.
Carolina finished a miserable October at 2-7-3 and had hoped the start of a new month would bring some better hockey. No such luck as some of the same problems that have plagued the club in the opening dozen games surfaced yet again.
After Brandon Sutter scored for the second time in as many games 2:48 into the second, the Canes allowed goals 1:22 apart and then allowed Murray to score on a centering pass from Thornton to head into the final 20 minutes trailing 3-1.
With little else to hang his hat on, Maurice praised Sutter’s play over the last two games.
“I’m really happy with his shoot-first mentality right now and he’s making the most of his opportunity,” the coach said.
When asked if Sutter’s play might light a fire under some of the veterans Maurice said: “We will see.”
The Canes didn’t generate much offense against San Jose through two periods, getting just 13 shots on Evgeni Nabokov and yet again would try to rally in the third period against a top-quality opponent.
It didn’t happen as the Canes have now been outscored 38-17 during their nine-game winless skid, including 16-4 over the last three games.
“We’ve got to find a way to get some wins,” captain Rod Brind’Amour said. “At this point, I would rather play terrible and win a game than get moral victories. There really isn’t anything clicking, from the forwards back to the defense, and even the goaltending you can say is not where it needs to be at this level. As a man everybody is going to have to pick that up.
“Maybe it would be easier if you could say, ‘Well it’s just this thing or that thing and fix it,”’ added Brind’Amour. “We’ve had some good efforts in some losses and come up with nothing and that’s what is so frustrating about this streak. We’ve done all the talking and said all the things, now it’s just a matter of each guy figuring a way to do something different to get it done.”
Erik Cole returned after missing 10 games with an injury and logged 20 minutes with five hits and no shots on goal.
The Canes did have a power play opportunity early in the third and didn’t cash in, while Chad LaRose hit the post with 16:44 left and Ray Whitney’s streaking chance off a nice pass from Cole was stoned by Nabokov. His glove save helped spark a 2-on-1 the other way as Marc-Edouard Vlasic converted to put the game out of reach at 4-1.
Carolina didn’t register a shot on Nabokov until Whitney’s good chance on a low slapper 10:21 into the first, and then tested the Russian goalie less than four minutes later on a power play that saw several excellent scoring opportunities. Still, the Canes came away after 20 minutes tied 0-0 and have now scored just eight first-period goals in their first 13 games as San Jose won its fifth straight.
“It’s a problem when we get a goal scored against us the heads drop and everybody wants to make sure they’re not on the wrong side of a video session the next day,” Whitney said. “We’re a little bit hesitant. How you react after goals is very important, no matter who scores, the next shift or the next two shifts to get momentum back or keep it going.”
When asked if he was surprised by the reaction to opposing goals, Whitney said, “This whole season is surprising so far.”
NOTES: Whitney was honored before the game for reaching the 1,000-game milestone. … Scott Walker played in his 800th career game. … Staal moved within one of 350 straight games played. … Stephane Yelle was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. … Tuomo Ruutu returned from his three-game suspension and was on a line with Jussi Jokinen and Sergei Samsonov. … Sutter was 0-for-8 on faceoffs. … The Canes have scored two goals or less in 10 of 13 games. … Carolina has been outscored in the second period 20-9.