The plain fact is there’s a sense of impending doom about some hockey dressing rooms – a feeling that tends to be self-fulfilling.
And a quick perusal of the NHL schedule shows it’s been a common affliction at various points for almost everyone – teams are winning and losing in bunches.
As the season approaches the quarter pole, 19 teams have lost at least three games in a row, nine of them four or more consecutively.
Hockey being a zero-sum game, that also means that 15 teams have ripped off four or more wins in a row, and nine have had strings of five or more victories.
The meeting between the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens illustrated something that might not quite qualify as a trend – the figures are higher than the past couple of years, but not shockingly so – yet is revealing nonetheless.
Even before Wednesday’s 4-0 pasting at the hands of the Habs, Carolina was plainly out of sorts, having lost five of its last six (and 11 of 13 overall) and frittering away the fruits of a short three-game win streak earlier in the season.
After his team’s morning skate, Carolina captain Eric Staal mused about the prevalence of streaks and strings to this point in the season, saying “it sure seems that way, when you see the Red Wings losing five straight it’s quite something.
“So much of it has to do with confidence, when you’re going well it just feeds into it, and when you’re not you start to get away from what makes you successful,” said Staal, who has been in a scoring funk since the departure of his good friend and former winger Erik Cole, who signed with the Habs this past summer.
After the game, Staal’s stony expression said it all: “We didn’t show up, we didn’t play, we got what we deserved ... obviously there’s concern.” Montreal, on the other hand, has righted the ship after a six-game slide earlier this year, and had carried a modest 6-2-1 hot streak going into last night.
Lo and behold, the Habs are now level on points with New Jersey and Ottawa for eighth in the conference.
So despite the absence of veteran defencemen Hal Gill (virus) and Jaroslav Spacek (unspecified injury) – call-up Frederic St-Denis made his NHL debut – the Habs were able to not only survive, but comprehensively outclass the Canes.
That they were able to shut out an opponent despite having five defencemen in the lineup with fewer than 100 NHL games – and three with fewer than 20 – is another element to consider.
That the Hurricanes could only muster four first-period shots says more about them than it does Montreal.
The Habs got goals from Michael Cammalleri, Yannick Weber, P.K. Subban and the on-fire Travis Moen (who potted his sixth), and were never really threatened.
Habs goaltender Carey Price, who made 25 saves to chalk up his first shutout in 26 starts, summed up the feeling in the room afterward.
“I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction, we’re starting to do a lot of little things right, as opposed to the first part of the season. We’re getting a lot more puck luck ... we have new guys stepping into the lineup and know what to do right away because everyone is following the system,” he said.
Surely it can’t really be as simple as confidence and following the plan?
“In our league the line between winning and losing is so fine now. It’s different, it’s changed ... there’s just not that level of dominance you used to see,” Cammalleri, who scored the game’s first goal, said earlier in the day. “It can change very quickly and with not much ... you get that bounce your way, all of a sudden it’s ‘we’re the greatest team in the world, we can’t lose’ and you run the table for five in a row. And when you lose a couple because of the slightest margin, we need to change everything, our personnel, system, lines, everything is wrong. That lends itself to these streaks.”