RALEIGH — If the theme of Carolina Hurricanes’ training camp and first week of the NHL season was “it’s OK to make mistakes,” the handbook for second, less successful week that exposed the team’s special teams woes could just as easily be found in the pages of the sci-fi comedy book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
“You don’t want to panic too much on that stuff, because the overall game’s been pretty good,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said after the Hurricanes snapped a three-game losing streak with a 3-1 win in Detroit on Monday. “I just give the guys credit for not letting that part of blend into our 5-on-5 game.”
It would have been easy for a team that dominated at even strength to be down on itself after losing three in a row mostly because its special teams could not get the job done. But to Brind’Amour and his team’s credit, the Hurricanes stuck with their plan and got the results they knew would eventually come around.
“It is about getting a couple little bounces. Right now the little bounces aren’t going our way,” forward Jordan Martinook said Sunday with Carolina still mired in the losing streak after opening the season 4-0-1.
Martinook was speaking mostly about the Hurricanes’ penalty kill, which had allowed nine goals in 26 chances (65.4 percent) heading into Monday’s game in Detroit. But the statement held true for not only the struggling PK, but also the team’s even-worse power play — 2 for 30 (6.7 percent) through eight games, with one of those goals coming into an empty net — and its overall results the previous three games.
But as Martinook said, a bounce here, a touch of luck there can make a big difference.
Monday’s game in Motown proved just that.
While Carolina was piling up shots but not scoring on Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard at even strength, it was the much-maligned power play that finally broke through.
Justin Faulk — who hadn’t scored on the power play since mid-February — got his first goal of the season with a slap shot from the point. Then Micheal Ferland finished a tic-tac-toe passing play with Sebastian Aho and Valentin Zykov for a second power play goal.
In one night, the Hurricanes went from the league’s worst power play to a more acceptable 12.1 percent.
“It’s just small sample size right now,” defenseman Calvin de Haan accurately deduced Sunday.
De Haan and the penalty kill also had a perfect night, going 4-for-4 and getting a shorthanded goal on Martinook’s empty-netter in final minute.
The PK got back to a less cringy 70 percent and, most importantly, the losing streak was snapped with a 3-1 win.
“You’re not always going to get the bounces, but if we stick to the process of how we’re playing then I think good results will be there in the end,” Brind’Amour said after the win.
The team as a whole thought the recent power play goals it allowed were more the result of bad luck — like Gabriel Landeskog’s power play goal Saturday that was scored after Martinook blocked a pass and it went right back to the Avalanche captain for an easy tap-in — than a needed change in game plan or deployment.
The power play, however, saw some personnel shuffling.
The most notable move was taking Teuvo Teravainen off the top unit with usual running mate Aho into less of a quarterbacking role on the second group with defensemen Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton joining him on the umbrella.
That left Aho as the main puck distributor on the No. 1 unit. The move paid off on the second power play goal when Aho fed Zykov the puck below the goal line and the Russian winger one-touched a pass back into the slot for Ferland’s one-timer.
If Carolina’s special teams can be respectable, the Hurricanes can focus on making their dominant 5-on-5 play translate into more even-strength goals.
Carolina has outshoot its opponents in all nine of its games — and in overwhelming fashion.
The Hurricanes are averaging an NHL best 41.8 shots per game through Tuesday’s games while allowing just 24.4 against — only one-tenth more than Vegas, the league’s best shot-suppressing team.
With a shooting percentage of 7.7 percent (tied for 27th in the league through Tuesday) compared to a league average of 9.9 percent — it was 9.2 percent last year — there’s still room for improvement.
There’s always something that needs to get better. The key is to not panic.