In a game as messy as Saturday's 7-2 loss in Boston, there are lots of things that need to improve. However, even in such a complicated situation, the solution is surprisingly simple.
“We really just need to do everything the reverse way,” said Tuomo Ruutu.
While the majority of the finger-pointing after the opening night loss to Philadelphia went towards special teams, the culprit in game two was more or less what Ruutu said – everything. Although the Canes could have spent five hours on the ice at Sunday’s practice (they didn’t – it was the standard one), they instead believe that the root of their problems on the young season comes from their level of competitiveness, which will be the focus coming into Tuesday’s home game against Tampa Bay.
“We’re just not battling hard enough,” said Ruutu. “It’s a mental thing. Not to take anything away from Boston, but I don’t think it was even about them playing that well. It was more about us not competing.”
“Our special teams clearly have to improve and can improve, but there’s an overall fight level that has to increase,” said Coach Paul Maurice, whose team has given up six power play goals in just two games. “It’s not where guys are standing; it’s what they’re doing when they’re standing there.”
Although Sunday’s practice wasn’t the famous “bag skate” by any means, it did feature a lot more contact drills in the corners, with most players not shy to give their teammates a good shove from time to time. Expect to see more of that when it counts next week.
”We’ve got to get more aggressive with what we’re doing,” said Maurice. “If we’re going to be giving up goals during games, we might as well do it while we’re working.”
That aggression did surface in the latter part of the Boston game, as the Canes alone earned 44 penalty minutes thanks to fights by Andrew Alberts and Jay Harrison and a misconduct penalty to Tom Kostopoulos. That didn’t help them get back into the game, but it’s a step in the right direction for Maurice.
“I like the fights and I like the fact that when it wasn’t going well we didn’t just sit through it,” said the coach, who is normally more reserved in that area. “I like that fight in our team, and I don’t think that we saw that in any off the butt kickings the team took last year where we just went away quietly. We don’t want to be getting guys suspended or stupid, but I like the guys that were willing. They didn’t take on small guys either - they took on their big boys and I like that.”
A potential problem for the Canes is that a blowout loss of that magnitude came at the start of the season when they haven’t yet demonstrated that they’re capable of better, although they certainly are. Although that might put more pressure on them heading into games against Tampa Bay (twice) and Florida next week, the Canes will try hard not to let it.
“We definitely can’t treat it like we have to win, but we can’t just forget about it and move on either,” said Ruutu. “We have to refocus and start all over again.”
It’s probably needless to say at this point since he returned to the ice and scored a goal, but Eric Staal is fine after taking 25 stitches near his right ear after being hit with a Matt Cullen shot. It doesn’t look pretty – I’m not sure his ear would still be attached to his head without the stitches – but it could have been much, much worse.
Maurice did not have an update on Erik Cole, who sustained a knee injury in Boston and did not practice today. Cole is expected to undergo tests later today.