By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes had a lot to live up to when they faced off against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PNC Arena on Friday.
“They’re a good hockey team; they can skate,” Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan said of the Hurricanes earlier in the day.
Carolina head coach Bill Peters pointed out that teams would be kicking into a higher gear as the playoffs approached.
In front of a crowd of 18,180 comprised of a split demographic of both teams, led by two goals from forward Phil Kessel, the Penguins steamrolled the Hurricanes 6-1.
Playing without alternate captain Jordan Staal, out for personal/family-related reasons, the Hurricanes struggled from the faceoff dot and on the forecheck without the team’s leading hitter.
“There was nothing really good about it,” veteran forward and alternate captain fill-in Justin Williams said.
“Whatever mojo we had, we didn’t respond the way we should have…The storyline is they outworked us, and it shows they wanted it more tonight.”
One goal from Teuvo Teravainen was all Carolina could post against a team that was 8-1-1 in its last 10 games and clicking on all cylinders.
Goaltender Cam Ward faced 39 shots, and didn’t fare well compared to how the defense in front of Pittsburgh starter Matt Murray helped him with the 28 pucks on net he faced.
“I thought they capitalized on our mistakes,” Peters said.
“We made enough mistakes that they make you pay. When you make mistakes against this team here, it ends up in the net.”
Losing it off the draw
The momentum in this game was initiated and maintained by the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions from start to finish.
Even without Staal, Carolina’s work over the faceoff dots was productive overall, leading the stat line by a 59-41 margin.
But the draws the Penguins won came in the Hurricanes’ zone and led to goals.
Jake Guentzel and Olli Maatta gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 advantage early, outshooting the Hurricanes 12-6 up to that point.
Guentzel kept his stick on the ice and redirected a feed from Kessel into the blue paint past Ward and put Pittsburgh ahead 1-0 at the 13:36 mark of the first period.
Maatta extended the Pens lead 46 seconds into the second after Evegeni Malkin beat Victor Rask off the draw to Ward’s right.
The defenseman’s long wrister made it through traffic and past the netminder’s trapper-side shoulder.
While Teravainen scored his 15th of the season, and cut the deficit to one goal, back-to-back goals from Phil Kessel pushed the Penguins lead to 4-1 at the 8:25 mark.
Goals and more goals
A stretch pass – blueline to blueline – from Brian Dumoulin to Guentzel set Kessel up to wrist a one-timer in from the left faceoff dot.
Just over two minutes later, Kessel finished off a 3-on-1 with touches from Guentzel and Riley Sheahan with a shot that Ward thought he squeezed the pads on.
However, it was a save attempt that ended with the puck slowly crossing the goal line.
Another dagger opened the wounds fully as Sidney Crosby’ s power play goal at 9:12 in the third put the game totally out of reach at 5-1.
The Pittsburgh captain, standing on the edge of Ward’s crease, slid in a rebound off Kris Letang’s point shot set up by Malkin.
Malkin then reached into the cookie jar himself and scored his 34th goal of the season with 7:18 remaining.
As a result of Zach Aston-Reese picking the puck off Jeff Skinner deep in the Hurricanes’ zone that allowed Malkin to extend the Pittsburgh lead to five goals, Ward threw his stick towards the neutral zone and was subsequently assessed a 10-minute misconduct.
“It was a little too easy to access our net at times,” Peters pointed out.
Where do we go now?
With an opportunity lost to earn points, the Hurricanes didn’t have much time to deeply dissect the demoralizing loss.
Still sitting a point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, and tied with the New York Islanders, Carolina prepared to leave for a match-up with the Red Wings on Saturday.
“We’re right back at it,” Peters said.
“Get to Detroit this evening and get back to work tomorrow.”
He indicated that Staal would probably not be available and would need those who worked to pick up the slack to respond better to certain situations.
“I think our biggest problem was execution with the puck.
“In the neutral zone we turned it over a few times. Turned it over on one of their goals in transition. I thought we had some poor recognition of when the D was trying to get off; we’ve gotta get it in behind them to allow the D to change. We wore some guys out today.”
Notables: With his 15th goal of the season, Teravainen matched his career high set last season… Defenseman Jaccob Slavin played in his 200th consecutive game tonight, and became the fifth player in franchise history to record a consecutive games-played streak of 200 games or more, joining Dave Tippett (419), Eric Staal (349), Pat Verbeek (218) and Justin Williams (205)… Forward Elias Lindholm recorded an assist and won 11-of-17 (65.0%) faceoffs.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport