There’s little doubt that Hurricanes’ struggle to score goals is the biggest factor behind the team’s slow start to the season.
Through seven games, the Canes are averaging just two goals per contest, which is good for a 28th-place tie with the 0-6 Toronto Maple Leafs. That number is even skewed a bit by the 7-2 rout against Florida, which marks the only time this season that the team has scored more than twice in the same game.
Last night’s loss in New Jersey was already the second time the Canes have been shut out in 2009-10. They failed to find the net just once last year, a 5-0 home loss to Florida on February 12.
“If we sit and wait for our offense to get going, it’s going to be a painful experience,” said Coach Paul Maurice.
Although Maurice said there’s more that the Canes can do technically – namely getting shots on net and making more of the “ugly plays,” he also believes that the problems have more to do with the players’ individual mentality.
”I think because we have so many players up front feeling offensively challenged that it’s first and foremost in their minds,” he said. “When you feel good about it you don’t think about scoring, you just play the game and you end up scoring four a night. It’s the thought that you bring to the rink that ‘I’ve got to start scoring to help our team win.’ We’ve got to win regardless of how it happens, and then the scoring comes.”
Although it wasn’t necessarily the reason that the Canes lost in New Jersey, the power play hasn’t helped. It’s converting at just 11.1 percent, which ranks 29th in the NHL.
“Our power play and our five-on-five offensive game are suffering from the exact same issues,” said Maurice. “We’re slow with what we do. A puck to the net is not the first mindset, and that’s what we’ve got to go to.”
Injuries also play a part, as the team seems to miss Erik Cole even more than anticipated, with Joni Pitkanen also having spent considerable time on the sidelines. Although he hasn’t missed a game, Eric Staal has been playing through some pain.
Good news from Saturday’s game is that Pitkanen was not only able to suit up but actually played just over 28 minutes. Maurice said that Pitkanen would continue to take days off from practice (he did not skate Sunday), but should remain in the lineup.
“I was incredibly impressed with his game for the amount of time off the ice that man has had,” said Maurice. “It just shows you how much we missed that puck moving ability.”
Also sitting out Sunday’s practice were Staal, Rod Brind’Amour, Matt Cullen, Sergei Samsonov, and Aaron Ward. None are expected to miss any game time, including Ward, who left Saturday’s game after the first period with an upper body injury. Although it was a fine period, I’m assuming that the off-ice officials at the Prudential Center got their Wards mixed up in giving him the third star.
Even though the Canes don’t play again until Wednesday on the road against the New York Islanders, Maurice said that the team will nonetheless practice each day instead of getting the expected day off.
“If we were feeling good about where we’re at, we’d take tomorrow off,” he said. “We’re just not passing the puck sharply enough to take time off the ice.”