With the 3-game losing streak, I, probably like many other Canes fans, have been thinking about what is wrong and what needs to be fixed.
I think an important starting point is noting that the current situation is not that uncommon in the long NHL season. Of the 4 teams in the Metropolitan Division who are all but certain the make the playoffs (Capitals, Penguins Rangers, Blue Jackets), 2 of the 4 (Penguins and Rangers) have also had 3-game losing streaks in January which is only 22 days old.
The key for the Hurricanes is scratch back into the win column before the streak extends too far and right the ship for the next run of wins.
What needs fixing?
After some time thinking about this, I boil it down to 3 things:
1) Attention to details and defense
Even before the losing streak started, the Hurricanes quality of play in terms of defending in the neutral and defensive zones and taking care of the puck in key places had already deteriorated. It might sound odd, but I actually think the Hurricanes overwhelming success playing and winning fun hockey led pretty directly to the current skid. As I noted before last week’s games started, there was reason for concern despite the 4-game home winning streak. The Hurricanes need to get back to playing sound hockey and not just hoping to score 4-5 goals to cover up lapses and win shootouts.
2) The goaltending needs to revert back to at least good enough
A staple during the Hurricanes strong play this season has also been the strong play of Cam Ward. He has taken a step back in January and has especially struggled in his last few games. My biggest fear right now is that he hit a wall physically and/or mentally after being overworked and will not rebound quickly. With Leighton finally taking a normal backup start on Saturday, Ward will have 2 days off between starts. If that does not rejuvenate him, he then gets 2 more days off before his next start. And if that does not do it, he then gets 4 days off over the All-Star break before his next start. Point being, the schedule should make a Ward rebound possible if fatigue is a factor. I do not think Ward necessarily needs to reach the same level of play from late November and early December, but he at least needs to get back to being ‘good enough’ on a nightly basis such that the games are decided by the skaters not the goalies.
3) The team needs to learn from the Pittsburgh debacle and be more resilient
The Pens loss was a strange one. The Hurricanes actually started okay and then seemed to unravel quickly and completely when things did not go their way. When things do not go their way, they need to stick to it for 60 minutes. The wild Vancouver win in December is proof that games are never completely out of reach if you stay focused and diligent. And to their credit, the Hurricanes did do a much better job of sticking to it in the loss in Columbus on Saturday when they were down 2-0 after 1 period but bounced back to play 2 pretty good periods of hockey despite the losing result.
It would be easy to make a longer, more detailed laundry list of more specific areas of play or to-do lists for individual players, but I really think simpler is better with the other key being that it needs to come together not just at home (where it mostly has) but also on the road (which has been a struggle even during good times).
The Hurricanes get their next chance to work on this list on Monday in Washington, D.C. against the Capitals. Important to note is that the Capitals are nearly unbeatable right now having not lost in regulation since December 27 which makes this next game a tough 1 to expect too much as the Hurricanes try to work their way back.
What do you think about this simple list? Is there something you would add? Are the details underneath also important? Do you agree that as bad as a 3-game losing streak feels that it really is not that bad especially when considering the opponets?