The Carolina Hurricanes made a brutal leap into mediocrity that started this past Friday night. They were in a place in hockey that is extremely critical at this point in the season. They are fighting for a playoff spot and could have leapt over the team they are behind. They didn’t win Friday night or Sunday, and watching their lack of performance was brutal.
One Game Can be Brutal
Riding a three-game winning streak going into Friday night’s tilt against the Detroit Red Wings, the home-team Hurricanes were poised to make a positive stride up the playoffs ladder. The team was one point away from the Flyers in the second wild-card slot. With 56 points, a win would have put the Hurricanes one point ahead of the Flyers, who currently have 57, and three ahead of the New York Islanders who had 55. There was a lot to gain with a win, including the extension of a winning streak to four games, and a spot in the playoffs at this point.
But the Hurricanes played very poorly, like a team with nothing to gain, and lost, 4-1 to the Red Wings. To characterize the effort, co-captain Jordan Staal said after the game:
They were obviously the hungrier team. There wasn’t enough effort from everyone, including myself, to get us the win.
It is inconceivable that a professional athlete, with as much riding on a game as the Hurricanes had on Friday night’s, would confess that he and his team did not have enough effort. This characterization, along with the mantra, “we just didn’t start on time,” were phrases often heard the first couple of years into head coach Bill Peters’ tenure with the ‘Canes. Fortunately, they have stopped rearing their ugly heads as often in team postgame statements.
Perhaps had there been an awareness that a win would have put them in the playoff spot currently occupied by the Flyers, and that a loss would not only keep them behind the Flyers, but also potentially behind the Islanders should they win their Saturday night contest with the Columbus Blue Jackets, which they did. The point is that “not enough effort” in one game had consequences that affected not only the Hurricanes battling with the Flyers, but also now with the Islanders.
This team is just not good enough at this point to afford to take a night off. Every game at this point is huge, with consequences that could mean sitting at home in May and June, because of a lack of effort in February. Peters said in Friday night’s radio pre-game interview that the team doesn’t really follow the standings because it is still early. Yes, there is still a lot of hockey to play in this season. But, the amount of that hockey could get cut short if effort is not given to win every game.
The Brutal Brent Burns Show
Sunday afternoon, the Hurricanes had yet another chance to move past both the Islanders and the Flyers, who were enjoying Sunday off. The announced attendance was 11,614 for a contest between the San Jose Sharks and the hosting Hurricanes. The Sharks were sitting at second place in the Pacific Division, which is currently clustered tightly much like the Hurricanes’ Metropolitan Division.
Maybe it is because the Sharks have had recent playoff experience, or because they have a bit better talent, but they came out much crisper than did the Hurricanes. It did not take long for the Sharks’ Brent Burns to assert himself, making a superb assist to set up a goal by Timo Meier at 4:06 in the first period. Burns is the defending Norris Trophy winner, voted the NHL’s best defenseman in 2017. He made his presence felt again in the second period, scoring a goal at 2:03 to put the Sharks up 3-1. The Hurricanes had no answer for arguably the league’s best defenseman again this season, and that too was brutal.
The Sharks were much more aggressive than the Hurricanes through the first two periods, leading in shots on goal 12-5 at the end of the first period, and 2017 at the second intermission. By the time the game was over, the Sharks had two points and the Hurricanes had no answers. Even though they overtook the shots on goal 30-27, it mattered not. The Sharks were the better team in every way imaginable for 60 minutes. Another squandered opportunity for the Hurricanes.
Justin Faulk: “It’s Brutal”
After the game, Hurricanes co-captain, Justin Faulk had this to say about his team’s effort:
I think it’s just brutal, I guess would be the only way you say it. We’ve got to be better. We’re coming down to that time where we can’t take periods off. I think in our last few games, you know, we haven’t been able to play a complete game.
Brutal is right. It’s one thing to get beat by a better team, and the Sharks are a better team in some ways. But, the Hurricanes likely could have beaten them Sunday afternoon, along with the Red Wings Friday night if they had at least tried. But, they didn’t try, they didn’t win and they didn’t get any points.
Sebastian Aho scored the Hurricanes’ only goal for the second game in a row. The 20-year-old apparently hasn’t quite learned how to goof off with his teammates yet, but a few more outings like the last two and even he might leave it all in the locker room instead of on the ice. It’s got to be brutal for Aho to be one of a handful of Hurricanes trying to win. Hopefully his heart will rub off on his teammates, and their recent slackness will not rub off on him.
It’s brutal to watch a team that has talent and has good coaching to play in their own zone most of the game because they can’t get the puck out. It’s brutal to listen to professional athletes talk about how they didn’t have enough effort. And, it’s brutal to realize that if the Hurricanes do not make the playoffs, it might very well be as a result of their lack of compete in these two games. That would really be brutal.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.