It would be one thing if the issues plaguing the Carolina Hurricanes were relatively new. They are not.
Again, the goaltending does the team no favors. Again, the team does the goaltenders no favors. Again, the Hurricanes get embarrassed on home ice on a night where they “just didn’t have it.” Give the Vegas Golden Knights credit for continuing to defy the odds with another sterling performance, sure, but this one’s on the Canes and their remarkable devotion to inconsistency.
Particularly after Saturday night’s impressive victory in Detroit, this loss stings. Much hope of the team having recuperated during the bye week seems to have faded, as the usual storylines continue to tail the team through another rough January.
The Scott Darling Conundrum
So...what now? The plan to use Scott Darling as the starting netminder for the foreseeable future has hit a massive bump in the road — he has a .892 save percentage and a 9-13-6 record in his 29 starts — but his contract doesn’t make him an easy player to move.
Darling is a better goaltender than what he has shown this year. Maybe it was the change in scenery or a new system to adjust to, but something changed between his last season in Chicago and his first in Carolina. And obviously the teams in front of him in both scenarios are practically like night and day, but sitting nearly 30 games in with a sub-.900 average save percentage hardly leaves anyone in a place to point fingers. Particularly when you give up goals like this one.
But then there’s the other issue at hand, the one that seems to plague this team on a yearly basis. We saw it with Eddie Lack, and now Darling too. The Hurricanes play differently (often with less confidence) in front of goaltenders not named Cam Ward.
Do Ward and Darling play differently? Absolutely. Does that require adjustment on the part of the skaters? Sure. Does it excuse a severe lack of basic defensive coverage, allowing shooters unabated looks at goal? Nope. And yet, it happens.
Fans, local media and coaches all seem to have a different take on what to do with Darling. Some would say he’s a lost cause and the team should move on, but that seems dangerously short-sighted and fails to account for the difficulty of moving the player.
Is patience the answer? Maybe. But this is/was supposed to be “THE YEAR” for the Canes, and so far they and their troubled goaltender haven’t exactly lived up to the hype. It’s probably still the most measured response, but Canes management made a fair deal of hoopla about ending the playoff drought, and Darling hasn’t been the answer (yet). Waiting for Darling to take his next step could work just fine, but it’s time to find a plan B.
For Darling, his best, and only bet, is on himself. Yeah, he’s been bad this year. And Ward has probably taken the starter’s crease, despite literally everyone in Raleigh knowing what happens when Ward is the starter. But Darling needs to find his focus and his confidence on his own. Could he benefit from time in Charlotte? Maybe. But it’s easy to see a scenario in which his confidence is only further shattered.
While he returns to a backup role for the time being, it’s time for Darling and fans to hit the reset button. Maybe it is a lost season, but it’s hardly time to wholly give up on the player with 29 games under his belt.
The Bill Peters Conundrum
Bill Peters is a fine coach. He clearly knows the game, and has a steadfast belief in his system. But games like the one he managed yesterday raise questions about his ability to get the best out of his team on a regular basis — questions he could answer in, say, a press conference, but chooses instead to remain as perplexing as ever. Our own Brian LeBlanc was there to hear what Peters had to say after the game:
It’s notable that Peters hasn’t thrown Darling under the Eddie Lack “Make A Save” Memorial Bus, but given two chances in the postgame press conference to make a point to a player or players, Peters demurred to the “I need to watch the video” line. Which is fine, but he can’t describe a goal in pinpoint fashion and then credibly fall back on an excuse for another. What he’s saying in the locker room might be different than what he tells the media, but it leaves everyone hanging to hear such a dichotomy for no apparent reason.
Along the same lines, to Peters’ credit, he said that too many guys are comfortable. But does that include the coaching staff? Sorry, but inserting Roland McKeown into the lineup at the expense of a fellow rookie isn’t exactly a profile in courage for a team that is in desperate need of a shakeup.
A lateral move to insert McKeown in the place of Haydn Fleury is exactly the kind of nonchalant, “a change for the sake of change” personnel decisions Peters is notorious for. The team obviously needs some fresh blood, but Peters again chooses to stick with what’s gotten him this far. And how far is that? The Carolina Hurricanes’ sweet spot, just a few points back of a playoff spot.
It’s time for Peters to adapt. Sticking to a Babcock-ian “we have what we have and we’ll make it work” system is all well and good if the team still wins, but after three-and-a-half years of the same inconsistencies and shortcomings and a brutal 5-1, “Murphy’s Law” kind of loss at home, coaching philosophy needs to change.
Hey, at least they’re scoring on the power play
In an effort to introduce some positivity, the Canes have now scored with the man-advantage in four straight games. And yesterday’s lone tally from Jaccob Slavin was a thing of beauty.
It’s not much, but any glimmer of hope is a welcome sight after yesterday’s affair. The Canes power play also won them the game in Detroit on Saturday night, so maybe it’s something to build on as they go forward into the home stretch of the season.
A final thought: it’s time to bring up Valentin Zykov from the AHL. Just do it. In no way will it solve every single one of Carolina’s problems, but if you want to see a change in the team’s performance, you have to provide the spark.
Peters: "You gotta get to the net and you have to do the dirty work"— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) January 22, 2018
Zykov has had a career year doing that in Charlotte. A lot for the Hurricanes to think about right now.
Bill Peters’ habit of being stuck in his ways is often shared by the front office. Ron Francis and Mike Vellucci surely have an open dialogue about the AHL’s leading goal-scorer, but it’s anyone’s guess as to why that dialogue hasn’t started and ended with “he deserves an extended look in the NHL.”
But let’s say a Zykov call-up isn’t in the cards. Cool, that’s fine. How about a trade? And I don’t mean the usual shrewd Francis special. Make a Seth Jones/Ryan Johansen trade. You have the means, and the playoffs are anything but out of the question.
Regardless, if you’re going to make a move, make it while it still has time to impact the team this season. Waiting until the deadline only buys you less time with a (hopefully) re-energized team.