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While there were some great moments in the Hurricanes most recent three-game road trip, the team still ended up displaying some of the inconsistent play that has troubled them over the last month.
A convincing 5-1 win in Montreal was sandwiched between losses to Tampa Bay and Detroit, continuing a trend of alternating wins and losses that goes back through the team’s last seven games.
The good news is, if that trend were to continue, it would mean a victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa Senators at home Wednesday night. Although they’ve slowed lately from their blistering early-season form, the Senators are still the team to beat as they hold a four-point lead in the east despite having played fewer games than most of their competition.
In order to pick up a win on Wednesday and begin doing so on a more regular basis, coach Peter Laviolette says that his team will need to find some kind of happy medium with their offensive and defensive games, both of which have gone through significant struggles at different times this season.
”I think it’s a pretty fine balance in trying to an offensively dynamic team and being good defensively,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on the players to make the right decisions. I think we’re trying to find that balance right now.”
The struggle to find that balance has been evident at different points this season. While defensive lapses were to blame in their two lopsided losses to Tampa Bay earlier this season, the offense was more of a problem in last week’s 2-1 loss. Ditto the Canes’ last game in Detroit, where the unofficial scoring chance count done by the coaching staff was the lowest it’s been all season.
When the offense and defense are both clicking at the same time, you get something more along the lines of last Saturday’s game in Montreal.
“I think from the first drop of the puck we came out with an intensity and we were flying,” said forward Matt Cullen of that contest. “We were jumping, we were all over the puck and we made a lot of things happen, but at the same time we were really responsible defensively. In saying that, it was basically an all-around game.”
”We played a much better five-man defensive game, we were up and down the ice together as a group,” said Erik Cole, who has four points in his last two games. “When we come back hard and our D stand up and can control their gaps because our forwards are right there supporting them, it makes us a really tough team to play against.”
If the Canes are get their second win in as many tries this season against Ottawa (they were the first team to beat the Senators all season back in early October), they’ll likely have to do so without defenseman Mike Commodore, who continues to make progress on his broken finger but says Wednesday’s game will probably be too soon.
They also won’t have winger Andrew Ladd, who was assigned to Albany of the AHL for a four-game conditioning stint. After missing 16 games with an ankle injury earlier this season, the team felt it was best to let him get more playing time with the River Rats, which should eventually help him work his way back onto one of the Hurricanes’ scoring lines.
What the Canes will have against Ottawa is the same team that is capable of games like the one in Montreal and their last victory against the Senators. All they have to do now is figure out how to do that more often.
”We do feel like we’re getting better as a team,” said Cullen. “For us the key is to keep getting better and keep improving. We feel like we’re getting better and better and that’s important to us. We need to work on bringing a consistent effort every night and hopefully the wins will start to pile up.”