R.L. Bynum, Correspondent
RALEIGH, N.C. — On Festivus eve, the Carolina Hurricanes provided their fans with plenty of material for when it comes time to air their grievances.
They could start with four power plays that combined to produce one shot — when Dougie Hamilton flung one toward the net on the last power play in the third period.
But there was much more as the slumping Canes fell 3-0 Saturday night to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Our power play was terrible, and that’s our best players,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “That’s the time that they need to make plays and … zero. That, to me was where the game, the momentum, just shifted. I think in the second period, we had a couple of power plays and that just sucked the life out of everybody.”
Sometimes, it was just a lack of energy.
Other times, they were passing when they probably should have been shooting — Sebastian Aho, for example.
The Canes’ leading scorer recorded only one shot in the game.
“They are play-making guys,” Brind’Amour said of Aho’s line.
“They are pass-first players. It does happen when you’re not scoring, you’re looking for that better play. Something that we’ve talked about trying not to do. But it’s tough when you’re not scoring, you look to make it cuter than you probably need to be.”
And then there were the shots that were either poorly executed, fanned on or gift-wrapped for easy Matt Murray saves.
The Pens goalie made 39 stops in the shutout finish.
In addition, three Canes shots found a pipe — not a Festivus pole — instead of a net.
“We had a couple of breakdowns, obviously that’s going to happen in a game,” Brind’Amour said.
“The difference was they capitalized on those chances and when they had their breakdowns, we didn’t.”
Warren Foegele came up empty with a pair of first-period breakaways as Murray made nice saves on both chances.
Those were a couple of the grade-A chances that were wasted.
Added to the frustrations, Jordan Staal — in just his second game back after missing five with a concussion — took a hit to the head in the first period.
He didn’t play in the third period after being on the ice for more than six minutes in the second period.
“I’m not sure of the extent of it,” Brind’Amour said.
Just like the 4-1 loss Thursday to the Detroit Red Wings, Carolina felt like it shouldn’t be behind 1-0 after the first period.
“Great start for us, I felt it was engaged for sure,” Brind’Amour said.
“Unfortunately, it was just like the other night where you probably deserved better in the first period, just based on …. probably the chances. But it didn’t happen.”
The biggest grievance for Canes fans, though, was that Sidney Crosby was playing for the Penguins.
When it comes to feats of strength, Sid passed the Canes by.
His beautiful passing led to all three of their goals.
One helper was a magical feed from behind the net to Jake Guentzel, the recipient of two of Crosby’s second-period assists. Kris Letang fired in the Pens’ initial goal in the first period off a Crosby pass.
“He’s a good player and he made some good plays,” Canes defenseman Brett Pesce, who was on the ice for the first Guetzel goal, said of Crosby.
When Guetzel’s initial shot went wide, the Canes swarmed on the puck, leaving him open for Crosby’s pass.
“A few of them, I guess we have to be a little aware of when he’s on the ice but he’s going to make plays and that’s what he did tonight,” Pesce said.
Carolina defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who was on the ice for the Letang goal, stated the obvious.
“You have to be extra aware when he’s on the ice,” van Riemsdyk said.
“But, I think if you look at all the goals, it’s maybe little stuff we can do a little better. Obviously, he threaded the needle a couple of times and made some great plays and that’s why he’s the best player in the world. I think on each and every goal — all of them — there’s definitely stuff we could do a little better.”
With five losses in six games and seven in nine (and shut out for the second time in those nine games), it certainly hasn’t been a December to remember.
Carolina is 2-6-1 for the month with only five points after it got the fans excited with a good start (6-5-1 with 13 points in October and 6-4-3 with 15 points in November).
“When you’re struggling to score, it’s that much harder,” Canes winger Jordan Martinook said.
“We had a stretch earlier in the year when we weren’t scoring, and you just can see how much harder it is to score. You’re not getting those easy ones where maybe you block a shot and then a guy gets a breakaway and it’s a nice, easy goal. The margin of error now is a lot smaller and we’ve just got to keep bearing down, keep coming.”
The margin of error for ending the Canes’ long playoff drought will also get smaller if they can’t turn around their recent fortunes.
To sum up: Sunday’s “Whalers Night” might be all that has Caniacs excited and giving them a hint of holiday cheer.
Kermit the Frog said it isn’t easy being green.
For a Carolina team that needs a boost, it must hope that that this doesn’t apply to wearing green.
At least maybe a Carolina win would provide a Festivus for the rest of us … or Caniacs.
Perhaps, even a Festivus miracle given the way the last two games have gone.
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