Hurricanes’ special teams fall flat in loss to Rangers

Goalie Anton Khudobin (40 saves vs. the Rangers) and the Hurricanes have the fourth-lowest points tally (63) in the Eastern Conference.

RALEIGH, N.C.Power play is supposed to denote some kind of advantage. It’s supposed to give a hockey team the upper hand, putting them a man up against the opponent.

But for the Carolina Hurricanes, it seems more like an impediment these days.

On Friday, citing four power-play chances against the New York Rangers (34-26-4), the Hurricanes didn’t convert a single one. And that makes seven games now where Carolina hasn’t scored a power play goal (0-of-26 in that span).

The missed chances came back to haunt the ‘Canes, who fell 4-2 to the Rangers at PNC Arena.

At one point in the second period with a 1-0 lead, the Hurricanes (27-27-9) had a 5-on-3 advantage for 43 seconds — but got off just one shot during that span.

"We’re just not scoring goals. Tonight, first few, we created some opportunities and then after that, I think we were trying to just break out the whole time and couldn’t get anything," said Hurricanes center Jordan Staal.

"When you’re not getting zone time, you’re obviously not scoring goals. We needed to do a better job of pounding the puck and supporting each other and getting things set up and good things will happen."

Staal had the only goal of the game for a while, until things finally got going in the third. Jeff Skinner converted a penalty shot to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead with a little less than eight minutes left.

And then, adding proverbial insult to injury considering the power-play woes, the Rangers scored a short-handed goal with about 6 1/2 minutes to go.

"The penalty killers are the hardest-working guys on the ice because obviously they’re short a guy. That’s no different than our penalty killers," Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller said. "If you think you’re going to go out there and play 70-80 percent, you’re in trouble. We’ve been touching on it and touching on it all year; and it has to sink in."

Muller and his players were similarly frustrated after the game. The coach has been as optimistic as anyone throughout this season, even when the team struggles.

Not after this game, though, with his team being so ineffective on special teams.

"We work on stuff and you’ve got to run the plays. If we start to get individual and want to make your own plays, then it doesn’t work," Muller said. "You get outworked on it and you don’t execute, the end result isn’t there. We didn’t get the job done. We didn’t get the job done.”

The Hurricanes currently rank second-to-last in the NHL on the power play, converting just 12.6 percent of their seasonal opportunities.

Perhaps worse, the Hurricanes are drawing plenty of penalties — only six teams in the NHL have had more power-play opportunities. It has gotten to the point, though, where it seems the team is dreading the power play as much as the fans.

With the game still tied at 2, the Hurricanes were whistled for consecutive delay of game penalties as pucks went over the glass, and that gave the Rangers a 5-on-3 advantage.

Naturally, the Rangers converted that golden chance to take their first lead of the game with 2:46 to go.

Goalie Anton Khudobin, who signed to a two-year contract last week, was spectacular with 40 saves. But he ultimately couldn’t be Superman against that 5-on-3.

"(Khudobin) made some huge saves for us to keep us in it," Skinner said. "As a (power play), I think we should’ve rewarded him, but we didn’t."

Staal in particular seemed at a loss over the result. This game — and the much-needed points — was there for the taking. Now, the Hurricanes are slipping further and further out of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and there’s less of a margin for error each week.

Yet, the errors keep happening.

"We’re just finding ways to beat ourselves," Staal said with a sigh. "It can be really frustrating."