Hurricanes see positives despite ugly loss
RALEIGH, N.C. -- So what will Kirk Muller do now?
The Carolina Hurricanes' coach already made sweeping changes to his lines after losing the season-opener at Florida by four goals, and the result was a 4-1 home loss Monday night to the Tampa Bay Lightning at PNC Arena. So where do they go from here?
The narrative in the locker room was one of progress. While the final score may look rather unbecoming, the small steps forward during the 60 minutes on the ice had enough positives to build on, though veteran center Eric Staal pointed out one obvious missing ingredient.
"There were some good things in our game," Staal said. "But it seems a little bit where I think we need to get down and get gritty and compete a little bit more on pucks and one-on-one battles and being physical in the corners and make it difficult for teams to get to our net. Clean that up and we'll be fine."
The personnel is there for the Canes to be "fine" in time, but two games in and a combined deficit of 9-2 and right now that's is a tough sell.
Carolina has two goals in two games even after the coach, perhaps hastily, switched around his lines. The defense lacks toughness and grit – just read Staal's words – and the all-star goaltender has allowed eight goals in four periods. He was relieved after allowing four in the opening 20 minutes Saturday.
It sounds so simple, but all the Hurricanes need to do to get on track is to score some goals, keep the next opponent, the Buffalo Sabres, from scoring, and for Ward to leave that game with confidence in himself and the guys in front of him.
But hockey is never as simple as it seems. The Hurricanes need to win the many little battles within, and they haven't just yet. And while getting used to playing with new faces such as Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal, will certainly take time and impact some outcomes because one week of training camp - courtesy of the lockout – wasn't enough given the number of moves Carolina made in the offseason.
On the positive, the Hurricanes had plenty of chances against the Lightning. After a so-so first period, they picked it up and had a flourish in the second, getting off 13 shots. They outshot the Lightning on the night, 36-26, with a Semin shot hitting the post and a Jordan Staal crawler just missing the net with Tampa's goalie out of position.
The lone goal came off the stick of Jeff Skinner on a power play. And with another man advantage in the second period, the Canes controlled the puck in front of Tampa's net for the entire two minutes.
"We went there and got some momentum with the PP and then get a couple of whiffs and we took a penalty," Skinner said. "I think the PP was good and that's definitely a positive. We could have buried a couple more it would have generated momentum like that and good things will happen."
But the ugliness of the two defeats and frustrated fan base that voiced enough unpleasantries from the stands late in Monday's contest speak to the importance of these losses. Muller said last week teams need to get a point every game with a 48-game slate, and failing to get one is like losing consecutive contests in a normal 82-game schedule. Theoretically, that would make this like a 4-game losing skid in a typical season.
Perhaps the captain dropping his gloves late in the third period served notice that this is the real deal, there's no time to waste in a shortened season.
"He cares," Muller said of Eric Staal. "The guys want to do well. We're not, there are some areas to get better at, but it's not a lack of a competitive level with a bunch of guys. Eric, it's his team, he's a captain, he's proud, and he's not happy about the first two games."
Nor should he be.