A week ago, the Carolina Hurricanes suffered a discouraging 4-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Head coach Paul Maurice called it a “very, very poor hockey game.” Goaltender Cam Ward
called it “miserable.” The entire locker room seemed frustrated.
But at the same time, the mood was positive, and the team quickly turned the page on what they saw as rock bottom.
Exactly a week removed from that game in Montreal, the Hurricanes will face off with the same Canadiens team at the RBC Center. And this time, the Canes are playing their best hockey of the season and not looking back.
“We didn’t like our game at all, and we were 100 percent responsible for playing that poorly,” Maurice said. “We dealt with the Montreal game, and just for self-esteem reasons, didn’t deal with it again.”
“Like our coach said, that’s probably one of the worst games I’ve ever played in,” forward Jussi Jokinen
said. “We had a long talk after that game the next day. Two or three weeks ago, I think we were waiting for something good to happen and cheating offensively. That’s not how you’re going to win in this league. You have to play disciplined defense.”
So that’s what the Hurricanes have done – they’ve played a defensive-oriented, team game that has delivered two straight wins. The Canes have held opponents to just five goals in those three games, an average of 1.67 goals per game. In the nearly 20 games prior to this stretch, the Canes yielded an average of over 3.5 goals per game.
“We are a much better team defensively,” Jokinen said. “We didn’t realize that if you want to win in this league, you have to keep the other teams to two goals or less, and then you have to find those two, three or four goals for yourself.”
Though the Canes couldn’t find any goals in the Buffalo game, they still felt good about their effort. In their last two games, they’ve scored seven goals, three of which have come on the power play. Four Hurricanes have put together point streaks in that time, as well: Jokinen (1g, 2a), Alexei Ponikarovksy (2g, 2a), Jay Harrison
(1g, 1a) and Jeff Skinner
As the team has discovered, a solid defensive game can still breed offense.
“We feel really confident in our game,” Jokinen said. “The better defense you play, the more offense you will get because you are always in good position after your team gets the puck.”
Coming into Sunday’s game versus Toronto, the Canes were 10 for 90 on the power play, a near-league-worst 11 percent. In their last two games, the Canes are 3 for 9. Ponikarovsky scored two power play goals in Philadelphia on Monday night, the second of which was scored on a simple play of getting pucks to the net. It was a bounce that, a week ago, the Canes weren’t getting.
“They’ll put the puck at the net,” Maurice said of the power play unit of Ponikarovsky, Jokinn and Chad LaRose
. “Ponikarovsky doesn’t mind standing there, or LaRose. So you’ve got two guys that are fighting to get to the net, and then a guy who has enough hands to get it there. Pretty simple.”
“It’s tough when you struggle. Earlier in the season, we scored some really nice goals. Like highlight reel goals,” Jokinen said. “When you’re not playing that good, you don’t have that same confidence.”
Now that the Canes are playing with confidence, they’ve seen success not only on the power play, but also in the win column. Tonight is a chance for them to right the wrong of last week, but more importantly to continue playing the game that’s brought them two straight victories.
“It’s still fresh in our minds how badly we played in that game,” Maurice said. “We’ve liked our last three games, and we’ve liked where we’re headed. For us, more important is a feeling that you’re playing the game the right way, and not just holding your breath. That’s our focus right now.”ODDS AND ENDS
This will be Erik Cole’s first trip back to the RBC Center as a visitor since Nov. 1, 2008. A member of the Edmonton Oilers, Cole had no points and was plus-one in that game. Last Wednesday in Montreal, Cole recorded an assist and was plus-one in over 13 minutes of ice time.Joni Pitkanen
did not skate with the team today. He’s still officially day-to-day and will miss his seventh straight game tonight with his lower-body injury.