RALEIGH, N.C. — Pittsburgh (8-4-0) had lost three games in a row coming into a matchup with the beat-up Carolina Hurricanes (4-5-3). And the Penguins aren’t the type of team that loses that many games in a row.
It seemed like the Hurricanes were on the cusp of putting something together with two straight wins over the Maple Leafs and Islanders — and then the injury bug struck again.
Essentially the third-stringer, goalie Justin Peters was thrust into action when Cam Ward was hurt against Minnesota last week. The Hurricanes’ other primary goalie, Anton Khudobin, was already out with an injury.
Considering how much of the first period was played at his end, Peters played pretty well.
“I think he’s played well in all his games,” defenseman Ron Hainsey said of Peters. “He came in under the gun obviously quickly in Minnesota, made plenty of saves. He’s made the saves. We’ve given up a few too many chances, especially the Colorado game, we gave up way too many chances and that’s why we had four against there. He’s been very, very solid. You can’t say he’s been an issue.”
Now, the Hurricanes have lost three in a row to Minnesota, Colorado and Pittsburgh and will have four days off before a stretch of three games in five days (four in seven).
While there have been some losses that the Hurricanes have felt pretty good after, this wasn’t necessarily one of them.
The Hurricanes didn’t even take a shot until more than halfway through the third period, and they were outshot 12-5. Their only goal came in that frame, though, by Nathan Gerbe during a 5-on-3 advantage. Still, the Hurricanes have struggled on the power play before and that’s at least one area that is getting better.
“We won the special teams game tonight,” Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller said. “Last three games, I think it’s been fine. It’s more generating stuff just 5-on-5. There’s definitely always room for improvement on it, but that’s not what cost us tonight. It was more 5-on-5 hockey.”
And after tying it up at 1-1 on the power play goal, the Hurricanes played pretty well in the second period and trailed 2-1 after Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz put a rebound back in. Then the Penguins clamped down and allowed just three Hurricanes shots in the third.
It was out of reach for good when a Sidney Crosby shot deflected off of a Hurricanes player before bouncing off Pittsburgh’s Jayson Megna and into the goal to make it 3-1.
“I think it was Crosby with the puck in the slot and I was kind of trying to fight through the screen to see it and next thing I know, it was dribbling backdoor,” Peters said. “I think it might’ve hit our guy up front, his leg. I’m not sure exactly how it ended up in the net, but it pinballed in there somehow.”
But for Muller, this team has had its chances, even with Pittsburgh’s stifling third-period defense. And when they did get scoring chances, they just couldn’t finish.
“(The Penguins) have got a lot of guys that have been to the finals and played in big games. In the third period when they have the lead, they know how to play the game and shut teams down,” Muller said.
“In the third, like you say, Pittsburgh shut us down but that’s them playing well. Prior to that, we’re getting opportunities. We’ve just got to bury it. I don’t think there’s been too many games lately where we came off and said, ‘Wow, we didn’t get too many scoring opportunities.’ Chances that we take are there — it’s just finishing off. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
And as Muller said, great players make plays. And to him, the Hurricanes’ great players aren’t making enough of them.
He didn’t name names, but it seemed like he was issuing a challenge to some of his better players to step it up.
“We’re not giving up much. It’s just that when we do, like tonight, the good players capitalized on us. But we need more from other people as well. At the end of the day, certain guys are there to produce but there’s other guys that have to start bringing something to the table,” Muller said. “To me, we had enough guys tonight that just got kind of pushed out of the game. We were light tonight. We didn’t play a heavy game and they won more battles than we did.”
There’s no timetable on when Khudobin will come back — he should start skating again soon, but he’s still on injured reserve — and Ward will be out at least a few weeks.
In the meantime, though, Hainsey said the Hurricanes are not going to freak out about the losing streak.
“We won’t panic,” Hainsey said. “There’s not going to be panic here. We would have liked to have get some points, we didn’t and we’ll be back on Friday.”
The Hurricanes will host the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning on Friday before traveling to the face the New York Rangers (last in the Metropolitan Division) on Saturday. They’ll follow that up with a three-game home stretch the following Tuesday-Saturday against the Flyers, Islanders and Wild.