Despite some encouraging signs, the Canes are coming off yet another loss. The challenge now will be to build on that rather than take a step back.
The most frustrating element of the team’s current slide is that the “moral victories” that pop up on occasion tend to disappear just as quickly. Good things the team took away from the third-period comeback against Pittsburgh weren’t present a few nights later in New Jersey, and signs of life on the three-game road trip were dead by the time the team returned home to face St. Louis.
After the most recent loss in Florida that pushed the winless streak to double digits, the Hurricanes now find themselves in a similar position. Can they play like they did in the first period of that game, in which they out-shot the Panthers 21-4, or will they struggle through tonight’s home game against Toronto and tomorrow’s road contest in Columbus?
“I thought that was far closer to the way we think we should look when we’re playing our game than at any other time,” said Coach Paul Maurice of the effort in Florida. “There was an awful lot more motion in that game and puck control, and that’s when we’re at our best.”
“The breaks didn’t happen but we’re going to get ours,” said Sergei Samsonov. “That’s the best we’ve moved as a team on the ice, and I think it’s a positive sign.”
Although the Hurricanes were prepared to play without Tuomo Ruutu and Ray Whitney tonight, both took part in today’s morning skate and have a chance to play, although Ruutu seems to be the better bet.
“Everyone has come in better than we thought they would from last night,” said Maurice. “They’ll get through the morning skate today, see how they come back to the rink today and then we’ll decide at game time.”
With so much uncertainty about who will be in the lineup, it’s very difficult to say who will play where (hence the lack of updates to the depth chart). Even if Ruutu and Whitney can play, there could be another spot at forward open, as Tim Conboy has moved back to defense for each of the team’s last two practices with Niclas Wallin sidelined.
In any event, I would expect Zach Boychuk to find his way into the lineup somehow, as the Canes seem eager to give their former first-round pick an opportunity following his recall yesterday.
“We’ll bring these guys in and we’ll play them,” said Maurice after Thursday’s practice. “We’ll play them and give them a chance.”
The loser of tonight’s game will carry the dubious honor of being the NHL’s worst team. Although the teams are currently level with seven points, Toronto holds the tiebreaker for having played one fewer game.
Tonight’s contest will be just the second of the season for off-season acquisition Phil Kessel, who spent October recovering from shoulder surgery. Although he did not score in his Leafs debut, the team’s most potent offensive threat posted a career-high 10 shots on goal.
Defenseman Tomas Kaberle leads Toronto in scoring with an impressive 17 points in 13 games, and was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week after his 12-points-in-four-games performance.