Playing a game every other day, on average, for the next six-and-a-half weeks will be a physical and mental test of monolithic proportion for the Carolina Hurricanes.
So, the team is taking it one game and one day at a time. It’s an approach that is perhaps unique to the team, but one that’s been employed with recent success.
“It would be a little overwhelming if you started looking ahead too far,” said forward Tim Brent. “I think it’s easier as a player to focus short-term, and if you do that consistently, the long-term stuff will take care of itself.”
“I just think our group is better that way. Yesterday was a rest day, so you come back today focused on tonight’s game,” said head coach Kirk Muller. “It just works for us. Every team has a different formula. We need to focus and be ready to play every day.”
The Hurricanes come into tonight’s game against Washington, the latter half of a home-and-home set with their future Division D/Atlantic Division rival, having won six of their last seven games. In that stretch, they’ve outscored opponents nearly two to one, at 29-15.
Approaching the schedule a game at a time isn’t exactly a playoff mindset, Muller said, but rather a reflection of the state of the team.
“It’s more just that we’re still coming together as a team. We’ve got a lot of young guys, and we’re focused on the process of getting better every day. It’s easier if you just say, ‘OK, what do I need to do today?’” Muller said. “It just keeps it more in perspective. We’re really understanding what works for us and what makes our team tick.”
In a way, injuries have also forced the team to take a game-by-game approach, especially in net. Riding Dan Ellis and Justin Peters down the stretch is the team’s plan, but neither has been named a clear-cut No. 1.
“We’re still at a position with these two goalies that we need both of them. They ran this way in Charlotte this year, and it worked well. They’re comfortable with it. It’s a good push for each other. It keeps them fresh,” Muller said. “Right now, our mentality is if they’re both playing like that, we’ll go back-and-forth.”
After Ellis made 31 saves in a 6-3 win over New Jersey on March 9, Muller turned to Peters in Washington on Tuesday. Peters stopped all 26 shots he faced, earning his second-career shutout against the team which he recorded his first shutout. Ellis gets the start in net tonight as the rotation continues.
“There aren’t too many teams that have the luxuries of three great goalies,” Brent said.
Despite being ranked 29th in the league on the power play at home at just 8.5 percent (4-for-47), the Hurricanes have netted a goal on the man-advantage in two of their last three home games.
“I’m kind of going through it on the offensive side right now. I don’t have a goal yet, and you find yourself thinking about it too much and gripping the stick a little too tight trying to do a little too much,” said Brent, who netted a career-high 12 goals last season and has yet to score in 16 games this year. “It’s kind of the same thing with the power play. We’ve found ways to win games so far without it, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a matter of time before it starts going in for us.”
At the other end of the ice on special teams, the Canes’ penalty killing remains solid, as they’ve killed off 34-of-37 in their last 12 games.
“There’s no question that it’s helped us win games,” Brent said of the penalty kill. “As much as you want the power play to score and click, the penalty kill can step up and keep us out of trouble at the other end and then let our five-on-five game take over.”
In front of Ellis, the Canes will ice the same lineup as they did Tuesday night in Washington.