The first in a series offour games against Southeast Division rivals couldn’t have set up any better for the Carolina Hurricanes. Coming off a clutch win Friday night against the Ottawa Senators, the Canes were hosting the Atlanta Thrashers, a team they’ve owned recently, with confidence on their side.
That poise was shaken with a four-goal outburst by Atlanta in the second, and carried into the early stages of the third as the Canes fell 5-2 Sunday – allowing their most goals of the season.
Marty Reasoner’s second of the game into the third gave Atlanta a three-goal lead in propelling the suddenly red-hot Thrashers to their fourth straight victory. Meanwhile, the Canes, who outshot Atlanta 37-22, can’t seem to string together any kind of winning streak 15 games into the season.
Coach Peter Laviolette said some help may be on the way Wednesday against Washington or later in the week in the form of Matt Cullen (leg) and Brandon Sutter (concussion). However, the defensive corps is starting to log some alarming minutes in the absence of Joni Pitkanen (knee) and Frank Kaberle (broken leg). Dennis Seidenberg, Tim Gleason and Joe Corvo all played 25 minutes or more against Atlanta, while Nic Wallin logged 21. Laviolette dressed six defensemen, but Josef Melichar played just eight shifts and didn’t see much ice time in the second after turning a puck over in the neutral zone, which led to an Atlanta goal.
“There are a lot of defensemen in the league who play 25 minutes a night,” Laviolette said. “Is it an ideal situation based on the schedule we have right now? Probably not. But they’ve done a pretty good job.”
It seemed like every time Carolina would grab the lead, at 1-0 and then 2-1, the Thrashers would quickly respond, taking away any sort of momentum the Canes were trying to generate. And compared to some other nights this season, the Canes were a bit flat and didn’t battle as intensely along the boards – one of the team’s strong suits.
“Not jump like there had been,” Laviolette said. “It still seemed like more than them, just not enough. Our attack in the offensive zone was a bit slow and sluggish.”
The second period started on a positive note when Rod Brind’Amour’s backhander gave the Canes a 1-0 lead in. But things deteriorated quickly from there as the Thrashers scored four times, including three goals over the final 10 minutes to take a 4-2 lead into the third.
Ray Whitney’s breakaway notched the score at 2-2. However, Atlanta scored a power play goal with remaining in the second when Ilya Kovalchuk’s shot from the point broke his stick, but the puck squirted right to the left circle for the wide open Jason Williams, who beat Ward. Williams then teamed with Kovalchuk three minutes later to put the Canes in a two-goal hole, bringing the star left winger’s career point total against Carolina to 48 in 39 career games.
“Every time we had some little thing go wrong all of the sudden there was a bounce and it was in our net,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s tough because in today’s game you can’t have little things go against you because everybody is so evenly matched.”
The Canes almost cashed in during a scoreless first period when it peppered Johan Hedberg with four shots over the final 50 seconds while on the power play, but the Atlanta goalie was quick with his pads and kept the Canes at bay.
One of the best fights of the season so far occurred with 1:49 left in the first when Wade Brookbank squared off with Eric Boulton as dozens of punches were exchanged.
In the end, Atlanta had enough to snap a five-game skid against the Canes and inched closer to the division lead.
“Everybody in the locker room is thinking the same thing,” said Tuomo Ruutu. “We play one good period and then another one is totally opposite and it shouldn’t be like that. To win games you’ve got to play three good periods. We’ve got to talk about it.”
NOTES: Carolina has allowed just 10 first-period goals in 15 games. … Whitney has 212 points in 225 career games with the Canes. …Kovalchuk notched 11 points in eight games against the Hurricanes last season. … Brind’Amour won 17 of 20 faceoffs. … Chad LaRose, who had played the best hockey of his career recently, was a season-worst minus-4. … Corvo’s four-game point streak ended.