RALEIGH — Without a doubt, it felt like a breakthrough.
The Carolina Hurricanes’ 8-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday at PNC Arena seemed to release the building tension that comes with a four-game losing streak, especially one that saw the team struggling to score.
“It’s nice to see the puck go in,” a relieved Rod Brind’Amour said following the win. “The last couple weeks here it’s just been tough sledding to find the back of the net. Tonight, we were able to capitalize on our chances.”
Two nights earlier, Carolina looked lost against the lowly Senators in Ottawa.
Anders Nilsson, a 29-year-old journeyman goalie on his sixth NHL team, made 38 saves in the Hurricanes’ 4-1 loss.
That followed a disheartening loss last Thursday in which Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist put on a performance his coach, David Quinn, called the best he’d seen by the future Hall of Famer in his nearly 18 months behind the New York bench.
Coupled with Lundqvist’s heroics were uncharacteristic breakdowns in the Hurricanes’ play. Turnovers, sloppy play and frequent line shuffling were all on display as Brind’Amour looked for answers to his team’s funk.
This wasn’t how November was supposed to go.
Carolina started the month 8-3-1 and had easily its most friendly scheduling coming up. None of the team’s first 13 opponents in November made the playoffs last season and among them, only Buffalo and Florida looked like teams that could reach the postseason this year. The last two games of November — home against Nashville on Nov. 29 and at Tampa Bay the next night — would snap the Hurricanes back to reality heading toward the holidays.
Instead, the realities of the NHL came at them much sooner.
After an easy 7-3 win at home over Detroit to open the month, Carolina dropped games to New Jersey and Philadelphia before losing at home to Lundqvist and the Rangers and then in Ottawa. Carolina managed just seven goals in those four losses and — if you take away the seven-goal game against the Red Wings — had just 23 goals in 11 games since they started the season with a five-game winning streak.
A month of games that was supposed to be about piling up points and creating a cushion for a return trip to the playoffs instead raised questions about whether the Hurricanes were the same team that stormed their way to the Eastern Conference Final last season.
“When you don’t score, it puts a lot of stress on everything, and everything gets magnified,” Brind’Amour said Monday morning before the second Senators game. “Every mistake you make gets magnified because then that becomes the crucial point of the game, versus if you’re scoring a couple here or there, then you don’t talk about, maybe, some of these other mistakes.”
On Monday, “a couple here or there” became a crooked number in all three periods, starting with a goal just 44 seconds in by Warren Foegele and ending with Joel Edmundson — who got both his first and second points with the Hurricanes with third period assists after being held off the scoresheet in his first 17 games with Carolina — ending the barrage with a goal for the second three-point night of his career.
“It’s kind of how it should look when you’re getting a lot of chances,” Brind’Amour said. “You should get a few that kind of bounce your way. I feel like, over these last little stretches, we played pretty well at times and just nothing.”
The six-goal margin of victory marked just the ninth time the Hurricanes have won by that much in a regular season game since the move to Raleigh and the first time in nearly nine years, a 7-1 win over, yes, the Senators on Nov. 17, 2010.
Historically, the Hurricanes haven’t parlayed big victories into long winning streaks. Only once in the other eight times the team has won by six or more did the Hurricanes parlay that into a three-game winning streak. In fact, four of the last five times Carolina has won big like Monday, they followed it up with two consecutive losses.
One night of getting rewarded doesn’t mean everything is automatically fixed.
“It’s not always going to look like that as far as scoring the goals, but I think we definitely got what we deserved tonight,” Brind’Amour said.