Losing streaks are tough, both on the fanbase and the team and the Carolina Hurricanes are all too familiar with these skids. The one they endured through March and April last year was especially painful and it feels like they are heading down that road yet again. The Hurricanes have won a total of five games during the month of December and have only two wins in their last 10. They salvaged an okay record with a win over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night, but that's mostly due to them getting an extra four points from overtime shootout losses. Due to that, the Canes season isn't dead but up until this point, they have not been a good hockey team this year.
They rank 24th in the NHL in goals per game, 21st in goals allowed per game and are also in the bottom-ten in both power play an penalty kill percentage. To add to that, they have been a terrible possession team up until recently. Meaning that they haven't spent much time with the puck, have had trouble tilting the ice in their favor at even strength and have generally been the ones getting outshot on most nights. Again, this has started to improve recently, their 5v5 Shot Attempt percentage broke 50% after the Leafs game, but they have been bad in this department for most of the year and it's one of the reasons why they have earned points in only 48.8% of their games.
What's the reason for all of this? As bad as last season ended, the Hurricanes are a "talented team" according to their payroll. They are spending nearly to the salary cap on this roster but aren't getting much for their money right now. Jim Rutherford went into the last two seasons planning for the Canes to be a contending team and so far, it hasn't worked out at all. Why, though? The common response I've seen to this question is that they lack "heart," aren't mentally strong enough to be a winning team or they don't give enough effort every night. Basically, everything you hear about a team when they go through a rough patch.
This way of thinking has never been my thing and I've always seen it as a lazy way to analyze the game or explain a team's problems. Hockey isn't a game that's decided by which team "wants it more" or who tries harder because every team tries. Trying is the bare minimum in professional sports and sometimes the results don't always match the effort you give, especially in hockey where luck plays a big role in the outcome. This debate between Ray Ratto and Drew Remenda after a San Jose Sharks game a couple years ago kind of sums up my thoughts whenever I see an article trying to explain the Hurricanes problems.
Ratto basically says that the Sharks need to stop making things complicated and "just win the game" and goes onto rant about how they aren't playing like they deserve a playoff spot due to their struggles on the road. Remenda takes exception to this and fires back by telling Ratto that the Sharks played a good game but couldn't score, which was a problem for them all season. Ratto's response to this was this:
"If you have Cup aspirations, you can't be 8-18 on the road in the second half of the year, you can't have pronounced trouble scoring the puck (what?), you can't do that if you're a playoff team....to not get results at time when you need them against teams that frankly you are better than in term of skill..this isn't good enough."
Sound familiar? The Hurricanes are not nearly in the same class as the Sharks, but what Ratto said can be applied to what the Canes are going through right now. In fact, most of the things I have read regarding the Canes lately have been similar to that quote. This is a painfully over-simplified analysis that doesn't do much but state the obvious. If you can't score, you aren't going to win many games and will probably be watching the playoffs from home. This isn't news, it's something every hockey fan knows.
What I, and many others want to know, is why do the Hurricanes have so much trouble scoring? Why has a first line that was so dangerous last season fallen off in such a short amount of time? Pointing to leadership issues and Eric Staal being a "bad captain" is not a good enough explanation for me. Leadership has its place in sports, but it's not the reason why this team's offense has dried up. What is the reason then? There are a lot of explanations for this and we'll dive into them after the jump.