RALEIGH, NC --- Being forced to wait for a long time on a plane in Newark, N.J., late Monday night did nothing to enhance the Carolina Hurricanes' chances of defeating the fledgling Florida Panthers at PNC Arena on Tuesday night.
While the 'Canes waited for their plane to be de-iced, the Panthers were already in Raleigh resting comfortably for Tuesday's game.
That is one way for the last-place team in the Southeast Division to have a shot at knocking off the first-place club, which the Panthers did, 4-1. Carolina came into the contest with eight more victories and 12 more points on the season, while the Panthers had dropped their previous six games, a few in which they weren't even competitive.
But there was more to this loss than just a late night arriving home for the Hurricanes.
Trying to understand what this means for them isn't easy, either. They didn't land at Raleigh-Durham Airport until 2:30 a.m. Tuesday morning after losing in a shootout at New Jersey on Monday night. But they say that's no excuse. And the bottom line is, this was the Hurricanes' fourth consecutive loss, a period in which they have scored just five times.
"I don't know if it was so much our gas, they outworked us, that's all it comes down to," said Canes goaltender Dan Ellis. "You look at their lineup, they don't have any super stars they're all injured. They come out, they stick to a game plan, they execute and they work. That's what beat us tonight. That's it."
If that isn't a byproduct of being tired, it signals a greater concern for Carolina. Perhaps it's both.
The lack of firepower is something that can't be overlooked. Not with the talent this team puts on the ice. And early Tuesday night, the Hurricanes were aggressive, throwing 17 pucks at Florida goaltender Jacob Markstrom, though none lit the lamp.
Carolina had just 17 more shots on goal the rest of the game.
"I think we have to get hungry," Eric Staal said. "We have to get more guys hungry in front of the net and aggressive."
The Canes had their chances, but despite having several man advantages, the power play just hasn't been working. It was so unimpressive on this night boos could be heard almost the entire time during one man advantage late in the second period.
Maybe it was just one of those nights in a stretch of them. Defensemen Tim Gleason had 15 stitches and Bobby Sanguinetti received 13 for a major cut between his upper lip and nose. Justin Faulk received a lower body injury and didn't return.
Injuries aside, the lack of quickness and spark gave the fidgety fans reason to believe the team just didn't have it during the embarrassing and damaging loss.
"I thought our effort was there," Staal said, clearly trying to remain as positive as captains do. "We looked a little worn down but we were staying with our structure in our system. A zero-zero game going into the third period and then some mental mistakes end up in the back of your net."
Carolina mucked it up late with a couple of fights. One involved Kevin Westgarth and Florida's Eric Selleck with 2:58 remaining that brought fans to their feet. Perhaps they just wanted someone in red to show some passion. Even a few Canes stood and tapped the board with their sticks, a courtesy form of applause in hockey.
Someone has to get ticked off for Carolina. The status quo is another funk.
Not having Cam Ward in net isn't really the problem. The Hurricanes have allowed just 26 goals in 10 games this month. But the Canes have scored just 30 goals, and that's including two six-goal outburst versus Florida here on March 2 and New Jersey a week later, also here at PNC Arena.
Like Staal said, guys have to get more aggressive and they have to find the back of the net more often. It is a simple game when it comes down to it, but too often of late, and especially on this night, the Hurricanes are making it increasingly complicated.