Hard to believe it has been less than a week since the Carolina Hurricanes were on top of the world, riding a five-game winning streak after blowing the Toronto Maple Leafs off the PNC Arena ice in front of a satisfied home audience.
Monday night, after as listless a loss as any the franchise has ever played in the building, the Hurricanes were booed off the ice, and deservedly so, by the few fans who stuck around until the end of the Calgary Flames’ 2-0 win.
Chalk up Friday’s loss at the Columbus Blue Jackets to a hot goalie if you like – certainly Sergei Bobrovsky was exceptional, even if the Hurricanes absolutely could have played better – but not Monday’s debacle. There’s no rational reason why the Hurricanes should get outworked, outhit, outhustled and outplayed by a less talented team coming from two time zones away.
Aside from the play of goalie Anton Khudobin, who continues to shine since returning from a lengthy injury absence, there wasn’t a single positive to be taken from the loss to Calgary. It was as embarrassing as it was baffling, considering how well the Hurricanes have played of late.
“If (the Flames) weren’t where they are in the standings, and if we didn’t have four days break here, everything wouldn’t be as magnified,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “But the bottom line is, every game means something. Overall, we have been pretty good lately. … It was everybody last night, but we had a little bit of a drop in our energy level. We only had one time where we put together back-to-back shifts.”
The Hurricanes can offer explanations – the return of three players from injury didn’t go as planned; Calgary played an exceptional grind-it-out defensive game – but there’s no excuse for what happened Monday night.
“It was ugly. It was just an ugly game,” said Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, who returned to the lineup along with Jiri Tlusty and Riley Nash. “I don’t think there was a lot of entertainment value. Those are the ones you want to get down there and gut it out, but last night unfortunately we were not able to muster enough out of everybody.”
Tuesday’s practice had some grit to it –17 hours too late – and the Hurricanes won’t get a chance at redemption until they host the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and Sunday. That’s more than enough time to think about the error of their ways and get back to the formula that had made the Hurricanes successful as recently as last week, before a goal drought of 121:09 began.
“Maybe the six goals against Toronto sent us off track as far as thinking, ‘Hey, we’re a big scoring team and we’re going to try and score goals,’ ” Muller said. “What we have to get back to this week is we have to play hard and play the right way and defend well and play well without the puck and be hard to play against, and then when we do get the puck we have to find ways to get through some of these teams to get second, third chances.”
It’s bad enough the Hurricanes have a handful of highly paid players who aren’t delivering, with Alex Semin leading the list, on pace for a paltry 12 goals and missing the net on a staggering 36 percent of his attempts. (“He has another gear,” Muller acknowledged Tuesday, stating the obvious.) If the Hurricanes are going to get outworked as well, they might as well pack it in now.