RALEIGH, NC — Aside from rookie Ryan Murphy, who earlier in the evening made his NHL debut, the Carolina Hurricanes’ locker room was empty and silent following their 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
None of the captains were available to speak to the media, nor was goaltender Cam Ward. The same goes for just about everybody else that suited up for the frustrating defeat.
Murphy, 19, was a bright spot on the night. And with wide eyes spoke about his nerves during the first few shifts he played and about his hectic travels to make it to Raleigh from where he had been playing in the OHL in Kitchener, Ontario.
Jiri Tlusty, who netted two goals on the night, was open for discussion, and Justin Faulk, another pup at just 20, trickled in a few minutes later and answered several questions.
That’s it. And that’s unfortunate, especially when coach Kirk Muller took about 15 minutes longer than usual to address the media following the contest. Nobody wanted to talk, or so it seemed.
“Longer meeting than normal, I guess,” Muller said when he arrived at the podium, prompted by a question, though.
This is what happens when a team drops consecutive games in a shortened season, and it’s what happens when the all-pro goalie is struggling again and the injury bug forced the coach to mix-and-match his lines throughout the night.
While the Hurricanes were resilient in that they quickly responded to two of Winnipeg’s first three goals, giving up three in the final period is also what deflated the locker room. Amidst it all, the focus was on Ward, and Muller was noncommittal on what will happen next.
“He’s a good pro and I’m sure he’s going to look at a couple of them and probably feels like he had an opportunity to make a couple more saves there,” Muller said of Ward, who had just 19 saves on the night. “But this is where we are as a group. We’ve got to challenge each other, we have injuries.”
Muller said the defense in front of Ward made some mistakes, while also perpetuating the theme that they win and lose as a team. He isn’t going to dump on Ward. Ward has done too much for this organization and achieved too much in his career to pounce on by his own people. But his struggles are a reality, and the drama surrounding who Muller might put in net Saturday against Tampa Bay is compounded because backup goalie Dan Ellie has played very well.
The second-year coach said he will sleep on making a decision. Ellis likely will be in goal versus the Lightning.
But that won’t change all of what ails the Canes. They are banged up, which is why Murphy was brought up to begin with. Riley Nash was also on the ice Thursday, and the team was relying heavily on players such as Bobby Sanguinetti on defense.
Jeff Skinner has missed three consecutive games after suffering a concussion last week against Toronto. That is his second concussion in 14 months. Veterans Joni Pitkanen missed his third straight game with a lower body injury, as did Tim Gleason. Tim Brent is day-to-day and Tim Wallace played Thursday, though he’s been battling physical issues.
“It’s definitely tough,” Tlusty said. “We have a few big guys out of the lineup and they are some of the best players for us. But if we want to be a strong team we have to win games and hope they will come back soon. Now they are out of the lineup and we have to just do the things right and win the games for them.”
Carolina was coming off a 3-0 loss in Montreal earlier in the week, and with a division foe in town, victory was the only acceptable outcome. Every negative is magnified in the shortened season.
And on this night, it was particularly so. The absent locker room and dragged on wait for Muller afterward made that quite clear.