Are the Carolina Hurricanes driving last year’s model? A few months ago the answer would have been, “not likely.” After a 2-5 preseason, the answer may very well be, “not again!” Sure it’s only the preseason, but for a team that is supposed to be turning around its culture, the regular season may get here all too soon. Yesterday’s 5-2 crushing by the Washington Capitals was not simply a case of a stronger team having its way, it was an all too familiar scenario being played out on the ice, with “lack of effort” taking center stage.
For the past several years, the Hurricanes have struggled to get beyond a certain point, to break back into the NHL playoffs. Arguably, it has not entirely been due to a lack of talent that they have been stymied in this effort. Eric Staal has been glossed a superstar by most in the hockey universe. Cam Ward won the Conn Smythe when the ‘Canes won the Stanley Cup in 2006. Jeff Skinner, drafted 1st by Carolina in 2010, has been a prolific scorer. The cast of characters is not lacking in genuine NHL potential. Yet the team has disappointed fans over the past 5 years, and not lived up to seemingly realistic expectations.
Why are the Hurricanes Driving Last Year’s Model?
The number one area of concern for this hockey club is undoubtedly attitude. It’s an intangible, for sure, but it manifests on the ice in a very tangible way. One of the common post-game laments last season was, “We were flat.” Really? And who is to blame for being flat? After a merry-go-round of coaching changes, the latest of which was Kirk Muller, the consensus was that it is the head coach who is to blame. The team leaders are accountable, too, but primarily the head coach has the responsibility for setting the tone and perpetuating a culture of effort.
Along comes Bill Peters. The new head coach with a pedigree of winning – albeit not yet at the NHL level, and with a list of impressive associations, not the least of which being Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings.
Coach Peters identified the need early in his short tenure with the team, and has already talked several times of changing the “culture in the locker room.” In fact, after last night’s poor showing in the Nation’s Capital, Coach Peter’s stated the obvious, “We didn’t compete,” Peters said. “Any time you don’t compete, you don’t give yourself a chance.”
So why did the team not compete? And to whom should we look for the answer? This is a question that must be addressed before Friday’s season opener against the New York Islanders. Jiri Tlusty, who netted one of the ‘Canes 2 power play goals against the Capitals, said it best when asked what the team could take away from the game: “How not to play hockey,” he said. “We don’t want to play like that.”
Injuries a Part of Driving Last Year’s Model
Without a doubt, the Carolina Hurricanes have had their share of injuries to key players. Without question this has impaired their ability to put together a playoff-caliber season. Recovering from a knee injury at the start of last season, Eric Staal was clearly not right. He fought through but never seemed to get himself fully together throughout the season. Jeff Skinner at age 22 has already had a concussion and missed significant playing time. Yesterday afternoon, Matt Niskanen of the Capitals hit Skinner with an unnecessary, totally uncalled-for elbow to the head. Skinner went down and unsuccessfully tried to pick up his stick, eventually being led off the ice appearing noticeably wobbly. Niskanen was not penalized in the game which is outrageous. The league will hopefully review the hit and see that it was not part of a check or a clean scrum for the puck, but was a blatant forearm cocked and aimed for Skinner’s head.
According to the team website, Skinner now has a concussion as a result. He will be monitored and protocols will be followed.
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) October 6, 2014
Other injuries have also been a factor for the Hurricanes. Alexander Semin is recovering from a hand injury. Will he be 100% in 4 days? Jordan Staal is out for 3-4 months with a broken fibula. Who will step in and step up to fill his skates? Patrick Dwyer has been out this preseason. Elias Lindholm left the game early yesterday. Was he hurt? Was the team just being precautionary?
Yes, the team has had to fight through injuries. But, professional sports is riddled with injuries. No team and no sport is exempt or immune. The Carolina Hurricanes need for their younger players to strap up and play like they want to be in the NHL. Yes there are more talented players all across the NHL, But that does not excuse a lack of effort or coming out flat.
Everyone is entitled to an off night. But winning is a habit, a culture. So is losing. Let’s hope that Coach Peters and the leaders on this team can find the ingredients necessary to develop a new model for the team, and not continue driving last year’s model. If they do, the team has a chance at making the playoffs. If they do not, well the PNC arena may look a lot like it did during the preseason all year – half-filled and very quiet.
*The team announced this morning that Zach Boychuk and Chad LaRose are being sent to the Charlotte Checkers. Boychuk had 36 goals last season for the AHL Checkers, but has just not seemed to be able to find his scoring groove at the next level. LaRose is only recently returned, and will likely spend some time in Charlotte getting his legs back, and being a very positive influence on that team’s younger players. I expect to see him in Raleigh before too long.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.