Since beginning the month of December with a 4-2-2 record, including a three-game win streak and a separate three-game point streak, the Carolina Hurricanes have gone winless in their last five games (0-3-2).
The Canes would certainly like to forget the old acquaintance of their most recent stretch.
But it is important for the team to glean and then build on the positives.
“If we weren’t playing well and we didn’t feel like we were beating ourselves, I think it would be a different story,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “We have confidence in each other, we’re playing well and we just have to correct the areas that are costing us points.”
In three of the team’s last five games, the score has been tied or the Canes have had the lead heading into the third period.
“We feel we’re playing well enough to win games; it’s just a matter of finishing them off. That’s the bottom line. We feel like we’re beating ourselves more so than our opponents,” Muller said. “That’s the part we’ve got to correct. Our guys are playing hard and energized. We’ve just got to get different results and play smarter going down the stretch.”
The storyline of the last two games is that the Canes have been the less opportunistic team. Against Pittsburgh on Friday, the Hurricanes carried a 2-1 lead into the third period. They outshot the Penguins 26-16 through 40 minutes, but the one-goal lead let a lethal Pittsburgh offense hang around. In Toronto on Sunday, the Hurricanes fired a season-high 43 shots on net compared to the Leafs’ 27. Toronto, though, capitalized on their chances, and the Hurricanes could not.
The positive out of this is that the Canes know what needs correcting, and now it’s a matter of correcting it.
“There are more positives around here than negatives, and we have to dwell on that,” Muller said. “We have to stay focused, go out and play hard and be ready to go.”
Even in a stretch in which the team feels it is playing well, something has to change to drive results. One change was made Monday in practice when Alexander Semin reclaimed his right-wing role on the top line with Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal.
Another change came Monday evening when Kevin Westgarth was sent to the Calgary Flames in exchange for forward Greg Nemisz, a first-round draft pick in 2008, the same year Zach Boychuk was chosen 14th overall by Carolina.
“We’re in a game of getting results,” Muller said. “If you’re not winning, you obviously have to make some changes – trades, lineup, combinations on D, whatever – to correct it.”
Heading into the last game of the calendar year, Muller said the Canes’ approach is businesslike and attentive, even despite the shake-up.
“Our guys are a pretty focused group. They know the nature of the business,” Muller said. “We’ve got to win. It’s no different than anywhere else.”
Cam Ward will make his second straight start in net tonight after stopping 22 of 26 shots in Toronto on Sunday. He is 14-8-3 with a 2.70 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 25 career games versus Montreal.
“He has to build off of that game (Sunday). He has to build his confidence,” Muller said. “He got a full game in, and he’s playing two days later. We’re giving him the opportunity to come back and have a good challenge here.”
The last New Year’s Eve tilt between Carolina and Montreal occurred in 2005, a 5-3 win for the Canes in Raleigh. Carolina is 5-11 all-time in games on Dec. 31.
“They know it’s business as usual tonight, and they’re ready to go,” Muller said. “We’re in a playoff race, and we have to win some hockey games.”