This loss wasn't Scott Darling's fault, not his alone. There was more than enough blame to go around.
Thirteen different players took a minus for the Carolina Hurricanes in Friday's 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, a real team effort in every sense of the word and the kind of loss where it takes an entire hand to point fingers because there are so many ways to look at it.
If you think this team lacks the character to be genuinely competitive, here's another example of the Hurricanes folding their tent just when they had clawed their way back onto the playoff bubble with a three-game winning streak (albeit having played the night before while Detroit was resting). It's the one constant of these eight-and-counting years since the Hurricanes last made the playoffs: They cannot stand prosperity.
“They were hungrier than us, that's for sure,” Jordan Staal said.
If you think the problem with the Hurricanes is that they generate chances they aren’t skilled or gritty enough to finish, their only goal came on the power play on a night they put up 37 shots (by Sebastian Aho, naturally, although Elias Lindholm and Justin Faulk did the hard work.) Jeff Skinner, who has four goals in the past 25 games, took a minus-2 to fall to a team-worst 22-under par.
If you think there are too many weak links causing catastrophic errors, there was Haydn Fleury getting his pocket picked repeatedly. Darling bailed him out on the doorstep once, but another flub in the offensive zone led directly to a Gustav Nyquist goal at the other end. Fleury and Trevor van Riemsdyk also combined to give Trevor Daley all the space he needed to pick his spot on Darling. Noah Hanifin, the All-Star, screened Darling on Detroit's first goal.
“You look at the Nyquist one, we had it,” Hurrricanes coach Bill Peters said. “We had it in the offensive zone. You go back on the first one, we had it in the d-zone and we were on that puck. We had the puck, and then we didn't have the puck.”
But many fans will land on Darling, making his first appearance since the three-goals-on-eight-shots Vegas debacle five games back. There was nothing he could do about the first goal, thanks to Hanifin, but the other three were more debatable. Daley beat him sort-of high to the glove side, Nyquist beat him glove-side high to the short side and Darren Helm blasted the puck through him on a bad-luck breakaway – Teuvo Teravainen's power-play shot was blocked and caromed all the way back to Helm as he popped out of the penalty box.
It wasn't another Darling disaster, but it wasn't exactly the confidence-boosting start he needed, nor will it do much to drag his save percentage toward a more respectable neighborhood. That glove is such a weakness, prone to dropping down before it goes up as Darling tucks in his left arm, then too late to react to even a mid-height shot like Daley's – which, while powerful and precise, was still unobstructed. Darling left his near post open on Nyquist's goal, and shrunk into his net on Helm's. That many odd-man rushes will bring anyone’s flaws into sharp relief.
Darling clearly wasn't the instant upgrade they thought they were getting at the position, but the Hurricanes need to be able to trust him in the back end of a back-to-back at home against a nonplayoff team. Friday could potentially have been a step in the right direction if the team hadn't played so poorly in front of him.
And that's really the bigger issue; even on the nights Darling is close to competent, the Hurricanes still play differently in front of him than they do Cam Ward. They don't appear to have much confidence in him, overcommitting and jumping out of position, leaving Darling exposed. And on nights when they're flat, like Friday, that becomes a toxic, if not fatal, combination.
That's as big a problem as Darling's play this season, which wasn't the real problem Friday night. He wasn't good enough to win the game for the Hurricanes, but the Hurricanes weren't good enough to win anyway. There were plenty of reasons the Hurricanes lost. Pick any of them. Pick all of them.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock