There aren’t many positive words to analyze and describe the Carolina Hurricanes’ play as of late. Losing to the Avalanche on Friday served as yet another hit to Carolina’s playoff chances in the congested Eastern Conference, and last night’s shutout defeat at the hands of the Toronto
Matthews Maple Leafs all but deflated their hopes. Let’s talk about why that is.
Lack of effort/resolve/desire/everything
Surprisingly enough, the Hurricanes were carrying the play for parts of the first period and a half, peppering Curtis McElhinney with 31 shots through two periods to Toronto’s 21. They even ended up winning the shot count 37-31 at the end of the game.
But despite the shot advantage, the Hurricanes were easily outclassed and outworked by a far hungrier Leafs squad. Connor Brown’s opening goal in the second period didn’t seem like a back-breaker, but Auston Matthews’ sure did.
Auston Matthews is a rookie.pic.twitter.com/NU7fw94h7h— Faizal Khamisa (@SNFaizalKhamisa) February 20, 2017
To give credit where it’s due: that’s the product of hard work and pure talent on behalf of an incredible player in Matthews. And while this goal simply changed the “1” to a “2” on the scoreboard, the heavy effect it had on Carolina’s bench was representative of far more than just another goal against.
The atrocity of a third period featured a Canes team that looked like they wanted to be anywhere but on that ice—a far cry from the dominance they’ve shown in PNC Arena this season. The final two Leafs goals came while Toronto was focusing on a trap strategy, clogging the neutral zone and just dumping the puck back in. Carolina managed just six shots in the final stanza, while giving up 10 to the defensive-minded Leafs.
Look at Connor Brown’s second goal, and notice how easily he darts past Justin Faulk. Notice also how effortlessly James van Riemsdyk floats a pass to him.
Here's another look at Connor Brown's second of the night.#TMLtalk pic.twitter.com/whf8RSXsQU— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 20, 2017
There’s no urgency from Carolina in that clip. Justin Faulk is content to let Brown take an unabated lane to the net, and after hounding Brown through the neutral zone, Victor Rask stops short at the blue line to cover what I’m guessing (hoping) was a trailing defenseman. Neither star player showed any strong sense of will to get the puck back.
The loss makes for a now four-game winless streak, and the Hurricanes look lost. Head Coach Bill Peters’ postgame comments are showing more and more frustration. The scorers are supremely failing to do their jobs. Cam Ward, for as confident and reliable as he was on Friday, was as shaky as can be facing Auston Matthews and Co.
In the “old days,” this type of continued effort (or lack thereof) would constitute a bag skate, Herb Brooks style. We saw these same Leafs go through it earlier this year; their coach Mike Babcock had no issue expressing his displeasure through grueling skating drills, and his team has responded since then. Perhaps there is still something for Bill Peters to pick up from his former mentor.
Of course, mathematical elimination has yet to become a reality, but with the way some other teams are heating up and the lack of available playoff berths, it may be time to come to terms with the reality of the situation at hand.
Carolina is now last in the Eastern Conference, albeit nine points back of—guess who—Toronto for the second wild-card position. They still have games in hand on most teams ahead of them, but those mean very little if they do not become wins. And they mean even less when the teams ahead are still putting up W’s.
So, with the trade deadline looming, it seems that GM Ron Francis’ job may be getting easier. There is still time for the Canes to sort of make it interesting, but probably not enough so to make a blockbuster deal worth it (sorry, Duchene fans). But even without a legitimate playoff push, the end of this season could be fascinating in itself.
Following last season’s trade deadline, Jeff Skinner stepped up in a big way to help fill the cavernous shoes of Eric Staal. He earned an “A” on his jersey for his efforts, and came out with the same intensity at the start of this season.
Depending on what happens at the deadline, could it be time for Skinner or another player to step up and take an even higher honor? Peters and Francis have noted that they will not name a captain again until there is a clear leader, and the guy who drives this team to finish the season with dignity and passion could be the one to sport the letter next year.
Any kind of turnaround for the Hurricanes is going to start with a massive win, and they have a chance to do that in their next game.
A date with the Penguins looms for Tuesday night, and the 7-1 beatdown they brought with them at the end of January will still be fresh in the minds of the Canes players and coaches. The team’s preparation today and tomorrow will be very telling of where they want this season to go from here.