Hurricanes dominated by Panthers, lose fourth straight game

Bad games happen over the course of the year and the Hurricanes have had their share of them this season, but their 4-1 loss to the Panthers tonight my have been the absolute low point of the season. It wasn't so much the fact that they lost but more that they were outplayed and outworked by a Florida team who had won only two out of their last ten games coming into tonight. We've seen how good this Hurricanes team can be plenty of times this year but for whatever reason, they have had trouble playing against bad teams and it's been especially true within their division. They let two points slip away against Washington last week, laid an egg against Tampa Bay on Saturday and put in yet another terrible performance tonight where they gave up 44 shots on goal to one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference.

Losing this game or any of their last four doesn't automatically disqualify Carolina for the playoffs, but any chance they had at gaining separation from the rest of the Southeast Division is all but gone. Winning these games was all about the Hurricanes making easier for themselves later on in the season and after going a combined 1-3-1 in their last five, Carolina will likely be in a dogfight for a playoff spot for the rest of the season. Not that they deserve to be in the #3 spot after their performances in some of these games, especially tonight's.

I'm not one to panic over four bad games and I know this team is better than what they've shown the last week, but tonight's performance was still pretty alarming. The team probably doesn't have to be reminded how important each game is at this time of the year no matter who the opponent is, so I'm not quite sure why they have been playing much lower than their standard lately. There are only 19 games left in the year and the Hurricanes still need to go a little better than .500 to make the playoffs, which they can do but the window is going to get even smaller for them if they continue to play like they did tonight and the injury to Justin Faulk probably makes things a lot worse.

You can't go into the playoffs allowing this many shots per game without at least making up for it at the other end. Dan Ellis isn't going to stop 93% of the shots he sees every night, so the Hurricanes need to shape up their play in just about every area.

Corey's Ten Thoughts

– Despite Carolina losing by three goals, this was a tie game for over 40 minutes and pretty much the only reason for that was the play of goaltender Dan Ellis. He turned away 40 of Florida's 43 shots and saved the Hurricanes bacon numerous times tonight. He played about as well as you could expect him to since there wasn't anything he could do about all three Florida goals he was in net for and made quite a few desperation stops after breakdowns by the Carolina defense. The fact that this came after a 35+ save performance only 24 hours ago is even more impressive. He has been such a great story this year and is providing the Hurricanes with terrific goaltending in the absence of Cam Ward, but the team really needs to rely on him less if they expect to go to the playoffs. He isn't going to stand on his head every night and even if he does, it might not be enough for him to win.

– Carolina had surprisingly decent territorial numbers tonight despite giving up 44 shots and getting outchanced 27-18 (!), but the shot attempt report for this game does show what the main problem was. Notice how the Hurricanes were getting outshot when the top-six was on the ice while the grinders were the ones who were pushing the play forwards. It was good to see the bottom-six contributing after a poor showing the last two games, but the top-six were completely flat. Your best players have to be your best players, and they weren't for the Hurricanes tonight. You could chalk this up to them playing a ton of minutes after the overtime game last night, but that's still not an excuse for this showing against a bad Florida team.

– The Hurricanes were down a defenseman for most of tonight after Justin Faulk landed awkwardly on his leg in the second period. The rest of the defense had to fill in by committee to make up for the tough minutes he plays, but I noticed that Jamie McBain & Joni Pitkanen played more minutes against Florida's top forwards than Tim Gleason. I know that Gleason missed a few shifts after taking a bad high-stick from Scottie Upshall, but he still was protected in terms of who he played most of his ice time against. Considering that Gleason was one of the few players on the team who was doing a good job of preventing shots & chances, protecting him may have not been the best move.

– Bobby Sanguinetti has steadily improved over the course of the year, but not many people will want to hear about that after the ghastly turnover he made behind his own net which led to Tomas Fleischmann's goal. There may have been some miscommunication between him and Tim Gleason, but I'm not sure what good could have come from him making that pass behind the goal line with a Florida fore-checker coming. Sanguinetti has done some good things lately but he has been prone to mistakes and brain-freezes such as that more than a few times this season.

– The Hurricanes penalty kill is going to take a lot of criticism tonight after being so "solid" in the previous weeks. Carolina's PK has been giving up a ton of shots all season long but not getting punished for it because of unsustainable goaltending. The reason why their PK wasn't hurting them as much is because they were taking fewer penalties. They took two very preventable penalties in the same sequence tonight and the Panthers made them pay for it twice.

– On the topic of bad special teams, the Hurricanes were given a chance to take the lead on a four-minute double minor despite getting outplayed and they ended up producing a grand total of one scoring chance during that sequence. The powerplay is making progress and they are at least moving the puck well in addition to setting up some good looking plays, there were just no results. Not scoring on the double-minor came back to haunt them after Florida's two powerplay goals in the third period.

– After a rough debut, "The New Guy" Adam Hall has had himself a nice couple of games. I mentioned earlier that the fourth line was one of the bright spots for Carolina and Hall produced quite a few good chances. He was brought in to bolster the team's forward depth and he really helped make the fourth line a solid unit tonight. Unfortunately, the top-six didn't show up and Hall ended up being one of their best forwards, which generally isn't a good thing.

– For most of the season, the second period has been very good to the Hurricanes but that hasn't been the case during this four-game losing streak. They are still fourth in the NHL with 34 second period goals, but this has been where they've let the game get away from them during these last few meetings. This wasn't so much the case tonight since Florida did their damage in the third period, but that doesn't mean Carolina played well. They were outshot 11-5 and had a four minute powerplay which they did absolutely nothing on. Both of which came back to hurt them.

– Florida rookie Erik Selleck nearly became the fifth player to score his first NHL goal against the Hurricanes tonight, but Dan Ellis was able to get the right pad on his chance just in time. While his first goal will have to wait, he might get his first suspension for instigating a fight with less five minutes remaining. He ended up getting his bell rung by Kevin Westgarth and I don't really have a clue what he was trying to accomplish. Westgarth was apparently looking to start something with Tyson Stratchan, which impulsed Sellek to make a bee-line right off the bench to drop the gloves with Westgarth. The league may look at that to see if it's worthy of a suspension, but I think the beating he took from Westgarth was enough of a punishment.

– Scary thing about this game? Most of Carolina's roster is in-tact with the only pieces missing being Cam Ward, Chad LaRose & Tuomo Ruutu. Ellis played his heart out tonight in Ward's absence while others have filled in for LaRose without much of a drop-off. Tuomo Ruutu is the one piece of this roster who is hard to replace, but I think it's going to take even more than his return to spark this team. I'm not going to guess what goes on inside the player's heads and what they were thinking heading into this game, but I'm pretty sure they know that they are better than what they've showed the last four games. I just know that there are going to be a lot of questions about this team's "leadership," "character" and plenty of other things that the fans & media don't have much of a clue about since they aren't in the locker room 24/7 and know what goes on in there. Whatever has been going on with this team, I am hoping it is just a minor bump in the road and not the sign of something more serious. Only time will tell.

Normally, I try to keep a cool head during the rough times and try not to panic but the team has just been bad these last few games and I'm not sure how else I'm supposed to put it. Is this a bad team or a good team going through a rough patch? That's what we will have to wait and find out.