Prior to the Carolina Hurricanes’ home opener, the players heard one distinct directive from their coach: don’t respect your opponent. Kirk Muller didn’t mean that in a unsportsmanlike way, though. What he meant was ‘don’t sit back in awe’. For two and a half periods, they didn’t. They took it to the Detroit Red Wings, building a two-goal lead and looking very much the team that everyone has been waiting for.
Then they fell apart. Whether it was nerves or something else, the Hurricanes took the edge off and the Red Wings capitalized with a 3-2 overtime victory.
“They played well, and they’re not going to beat themselves,” said Muller of the Red Wings after the game. “They’re going to force you to play 60 minutes, or more than 60 minutes.”
A similar story befell the team in Pittsburgh. After rallying from a two-goal deficit early in the third, the ‘Canes seemed to have all the momentum. It was short-lived, however, and the Penguins retook the lead just a few minutes later, never looking back.
Again Muller criticized his team, stating that they “gave the Penguins too much respect” in the first period. They were outhit, outhustled, outscored and outplayed. Despite the 1-1-1 record after three games, it’s been a common theme on the young season, and one that can’t continue.
The Hurricanes are a talented team too, and one to be taken seriously. Had it not been for injuries a year ago, they may have made the playoffs, and from there, who knows. But as it stands, they are in the midst of a four year dry spell and lack a killer instinct.
When getting a lead, they tend to take their foot off the gas, and sit back in a defensive shell. Chances dry up, and they hope for the win rather than forcing the issue — not a recipe for sustained success.
Maybe it’s just a confidence issue.
“That was not our team. We didn’t compete at a level we wanted to. We didn’t have a strong enough focus to play a good hockey team.”
Whatever the case may be, the ‘Canes can not continue to sit back and wait for the hammer to fall. They have to stay aggressive, knowing that they will win the game when the opportunity is there.
Thursday night in Washington, the Hurricanes will face a Capitals team that is just as dangerous offensively as the Red Wings and Penguins. If Muller’s team “respects” Alexander Ovechkin, they may find themselves on the wrong end of another hat trick.
“Mentally and physically we got beat in both areas the other night. The guys know it, we talked about it, and I’m expecting a better competitive level tonight.”