You don't win the Stanley Cup in the first two games of the regular season.
Of course, the Carolina Hurricanes would have preferred to tick in the points column rather than dropping two in a row to start the season, but there are indicators that the team is not far off from securing its first victory under head coach Bill Peters.
“It’s a long, long year,” Peters said. “Guys were good today [at practice]. They worked hard, and spirits were fine.”
The Canes haven't been good enough: that's the bottom line, and Peters has said as much.
But there have been pieces, glimpses and flashes of what the team is truly capable of, only to be upended by mental mistakes and unforced errors, whether it’s an ill-timed penalty or a seemingly meaningless turnover at one end of the ice that leads to a goal against at the other end.
“It’s a work in progress, but ultimately we have to keep working toward what we’re trying to do,” defenseman John-Michael Liles said. “I think we’ll see results sooner rather than later.”
One marked improvement the Canes have shown in the first two games is the power play, which is clicking at a league second-best 44.4 percent (four-for-nine).
“We’ve had quick puck movement. Roddy has done a great job communicating with the guys and putting guys in the right spots,” said Liles, who recorded the primary assist on Jiri Tlusty’s first goal – a power-play tally – on Saturday, the result of quick puck movement onto Tlusty’s stick in the slot. “So far, it’s paid off. We have to try to sustain it over the course of the year, but it’s a good start, and that’s always nice.”
The team has also been rather resilient, scoring four of their six total goals in the third period. Saturday night on Long Island, they tied the game twice a brought the score within a goal in the final 20 minutes.
“It’s two games in,” Liles said. “We did some good things, but you get behind the eight-ball sometimes.”
All the while, the Canes are attempting to plug gaping lineup holes created by injuries to three of their best players.
“We’re getting hit with some injuries right now, but you play through it, and away you go,” Peters said. “That’s why you have guys down in the minors that are NHL players ready to go and help you out.”
“It’s never easy losing players, especially some of the players we’ve lost,” Liles said. “You’re kind of changing things on the fly and guys are maybe being put into positions they aren’t used to during the middle of the game. When you have that, it’s a matter of communication.”
In addition to Jordan Staal (fractured fibula, 3-4 months) and Jeff Skinner (concussion, day-to-day) being sidelined, the Canes also are without captain Eric Staal (upper-body) and Patrick Dwyer (lower-body) for Tuesday’s contest versus Buffalo. Forward Zach Boychuk was recalled Sunday evening to help bridge the gap.
“I expect a lot of energy out of him. I expect him to be a forechecker, a hound on the puck and one of the hardest-working guys in the game,” Peters said of Boychuk. “I want him to be noticeable and hungry.”
Tuesday’s game will mark just the 18th game (16th due to injury) that Eric Staal has missed in his NHL career, which is now in its 11th season. He missed three games with a lower-body injury last season and 10 games in 2009-10 alone.
Peters said that Skinner, who has been on the shelf following the preseason finale in Washington on Oct. 5, skated by himself on Monday and might skate with the team on Tuesday morning.
“He’s getting real close,” Peters said. “Hopefully by Thursday he should be ready to go. That’s me being optimistic.”
Optimism reigns supreme.
“We want to get going for sure. We need a win. We need to play hard for 60 minutes, or 65 if it takes that. And we need to play disciplined,” Peters said. “I thought we worked hard in New York, but we have to work smart as we work hard. If we combine the two, we’ll like the result.”