RALEIGH — Every time you thought it couldn’t get worse, it did.
The Carolina Hurricanes have won 21 games since the start of 2019. Number 22 did not come against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night at PNC Arena. The only silver lining was that it took all of three minutes to confirm that fact, the Jets racing out to a 4-0 lead after one period on their way to an 8-1 win that never saw them leave first gear.
It was a horror show for the Canes’ top line. Sebastian Aho, Nino Niederreiter and Justin Williams combined to go minus-15 on the evening, led by Niederreiter’s franchise-record -6 - setting the low-water mark for single-game plus-minus futility - and the only reason Williams didn’t get to -5 was in the penalty box for one of the goals.
Why was he there, you ask? Because he was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct for shooting the puck into the Winnipeg net.
Now, it wasn’t quite that simple, of course. Williams’ shot found the back of the net, the only time a Canes player did that all night, on a play where Laurent Brossoit didn’t even bother to make a save, the play having been whistled dead for offside. Predictably, that led to a skirmish behind the net, but instead of drawing momentum from it, the Canes laid down, apparently already looking forward to their visit to Nashville on Saturday.
Kevin Hayes opened the scoring for the Jets three minutes into the game, somehow batting the puck into the net off of his own blocked shot past a befuddled Curtis McElhinney. Then, it was Blake Wheeler’s turn. Then Ben Chiarot’s. Then Nikolaj Ehlers’. It was 4-0 after twenty minutes and it might as well have been 24-0.
Andrew Copp scored with 31 seconds left in the second period to make it 5-0, and the collective reaction was essentially nothing more than a shrug emoji. When Kyle Connor scored to make it 6-1 on a power play with 6:15 to go, the crowd couldn’t even muster up the give-a-damn to perfunctorily boo the goal announcement. (Copp scored again with a minute left, to general indifference. Ditto when Chiarot scored his second of the game with 15 seconds left.)
In the third period, to add insult to injury - or, injury to injury, more accurately - Micheal Ferland was the victim of an inadvertent collision with Dmitry Kulikov in which Kulikov’s helmet made contact with Ferland’s jaw. Ferland went immediately to the room, and did not return, the second straight game where he was forced out of a game early.
Curtis McElhinney stopped 21 of 29 shots, and was never really in any danger of being pulled, given that the Canes faced a back-to-back scenario. At the other end, Brossoit was marvelous, although he didn’t have to be anything more than simply mediocre. Greg McKegg scored the dictionary definition of a consolation goal to spoil Brossoit’s shutout just as a power play expired halfway through the third period, and the fact that Greg McKegg was within shouting distance of a power-play goal at all tells you all you need to know about a forgettable night.
They Said It
[How does your approach to a game like that change as a coach?] I don’t know. I have to process it a little more. Obviously it’s not something we want to see, and certainly not acceptable. We haven’t had one of those this year, really. We’ve had a couple bad games, for sure, but nothing like that. That was a little shocking. I didn't expect that at all. The good news is that we have to play tomorrow, so we can kind of tank this game and move on.
It’s something that hasn’t happened this year, so it’s not like I’d seen it before. That was a one-off. One of the things I love about the group is that you don't see that — ever. Again, I’ll have to sit down and look through this again, but really, my assessment early was that we weren’t that bad. Our best players had a tough night, but everybody else was going pretty good. For whatever reason, every grade-A we gave up went in the back of our net. We couldn’t recover. The game was almost over before it got started, unfortunately.
We talked about [McElhinney needing to stay in]. Unfortunately we play tomorrow, and I’m already looking ahead of that. I certainly didn’t want to jeopardize that game tomorrow. It was a tough one. That, to me, bothers me more than anything, because he’s been solid for us.
[Did the 9-0 loss to Atlanta cross your mind?] Yep. It actually did. When it got to 4-0, it felt like “I’ve seen this before”— and I shouldn’t have, because sometimes you think things and they do happen, and that’s what ended up happening. It almost felt the exact same way.
It just counts as a loss at the end of the day. I think it’s easier to park that one and move on than if we’d have lost in the last minute or something.
It all depends on what happens tomorrow, really. We certainly haven’t had one of those this year, and we can turn the page quickly, because that was...I don’t know, it’s hard to even keep your head up here in this interview and answer these questions, because that was not us.
You name it, we weren't there. You name any play, they won it. We addressed [McElhinney] a little bit after the game, but that was...what happened in the first ten minutes of the game and what happened in the last three minutes was totally, totally inexcusable, and quite frankly something that we’re all ashamed of. Leaving our goaltender who gives his all for us every time, three late goals, chance after chance after chance...we all owe him an apology after that.
We’ve always answered the bell this year so far, and it’s time to do it again. This time of the year, a game like that can go one way or the other. We’ve answered the bell and we’re going to do it tomorrow.
[What was missing?] Everything. I don’t know. Didn’t have anything going, I don’t think. There wasn’t one part of our game that was any good. Getting beat right from the beginning, loose pucks, puck battles, just up-ice skating. We made it very, very easy on them.
Put any spin on it you want, I guess. It just depends on what we do the next day. We’re lucky enough that we play tomorrow and can try and get past this, but that can’t happen, and we’re not in a position to let that happen. We need every point we can get. When we come up like that, we’re not going to get any points.
[What will allow you to come back?] Our work ethic. Obviously, we didn’t have it tonight, so it’s hard to sit here and say that’s our team, but it is. Guys come in, come to work, bring maximal effort every day, and that’s how we get through that. That’s how we’ve managed to be where we are today. That’s the only way we can look at it. You do that, it’s OK, it looks right, everyone’s on board. That’s not OK. We can live with a loss if we all show up and work our balls off. That didn’t happen tonight, and that won’t be the performance tomorrow.
- Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way so we can all move on:
- This will be brief. During the game I tweeted from the CC account, context free, the box score from that infamous 9-0 railroading the Hurricanes took at the hands of this very franchise, then the Atlanta Thrashers, on November 12, 2005. I saw the parallels, as did Luke DeCock of the N&O (who will have a column about this tomorrow) and so too did Rod Brind’Amour, the captain of the team on the receiving end of that pantsing.
- The point here being, every team - even a Stanley Cup winning team - has a clunker. The Canes’ minds were already on the flight to Nashville ten minutes into the game. It happens. They’ve still won 21 games since January 1. Tonight’s loss was just that - one loss.
- Now, if they come out tomorrow and have another bender, then we’ll have some real soul-searching to do. But this one happened, it’s over, and everyone has thrown it in the garbage where it belongs. We’re on to Nashville.
- Somehow, Saku Maenalanen finished +1 in an 8-1 loss.
- Williams was benched with nine minutes to go. Jordan Staal didn’t see the ice in the final 7:30, Teuvo Teravainen was done for the night with 5:30 left, and Aho saw just one shift in the final nine minutes.
- We’re done here. Play nice in the comments.