After registering just two points in overtime losses on a four-game road trip, the Canes hit bottom Wednesday night upon their return to the RBC Center, falling to the St. Louis Blues 5-2 en route to the team’s seventh straight loss.
It is now the club’s worst skid since the 1985-86 season, but that mark is somewhat misleading since Carolina does have two shootout losses and one overtime defeat in that stretch.
That still doesn’t hide the fact the Canes looked like they had turned the corner in their last few road games, only to come back to North Carolina and produce a game filled with turnover after turnover and defensive breakdowns.
“This is definitely not the kind of game we wanted to bring,” said Sergei Samsonov. “We’ve got to work at some things. We’ve got to be more mentally strong. We give up the first goal and then all of the sudden we’re making plays we shouldn’t be making. We need to stick with our plan for 60 minutes.”
Cam Ward entered the game with a 3-0 career record and 1.00 GAA against the Blues, who had scored just four goals in their last five games against the Canes. But on this night, St. Louis took advantage of Carolina’s miscues to score four in the opening 40 minutes on just 14 shots to take a three-goal lead into the third.
When asked if he thought of pulling his workhorse goalie, coach Paul Maurice shot back, saying, “I thought that they all deserved to be out there together tonight.”
Several players in the locker room said the team’s confidence is fragile at this point, but Maurice disputed that opinion.
“You get a lot more confident when you work hard,” Maurice said. “It’s funny how your confidence goes when your feet don’t move and you’re not hitting anybody. The simple grinding things we’re just not willing to do, and it starts with our best guys – backchecking, hitting and not getting beat off walls. Doing it once doesn’t make you a good guy, it’s got to be every shift and we’re just not getting it. We could outshoot them 72-36 and we’re going to lose 10-4.”
Eric Staal was a minus-4 with just one shot on goal, while Joni Pitkanen, who had played well since returning from knee surgery, was also a minus-4 as the Canes logged 10 giveaways on the official stat sheet, but that figure may have been under-reported on a miserable night.
“We’ve got to dig ourselves out of this as a team,” said Chad LaRose, who is still searching for his first goal of the season after a career-best 19 last year. “We’ve got to stick together, and when it’s not working we can’t get stretched out on the ice.”
It looked as if Carolina was ready to close the score to 3-2 midway through the second but Rod Brind’Amour’s close-in shot was deflected by Chris Mason’s quick glove hand. And just 52 seconds after the failed chance the Blues added their fourth goal after a poor decision by Pitkanen to pinch into the zone and an even poorer line change.
Scott Walker’s power-play goal with 11:48 left cut the score to 4-2, but St. Louis sealed it with an empty-netter with less than a minute remaining as the Canes fell to 2-6-3 with just seven points in 11 games.
Carolina already trails Southeast Division-leading Washington by nine points and needs to regroup quickly before heading to Philadelphia and returning home against San Jose in back-to-back weekend games. Carolina was 6-3-2 last season after 11 games.
Carolina started fast with nine shots on Mason in the opening six minutes, but fell behind 7:32 in when Ward surrendered a rebound goal.
Matters got worse late in the first when the Blues cashed twice in 16 seconds on a turnover by Jay Harrison and a neutral zone breakdown after the ensuing face-off. It was the fifth time this season the Canes have allowed opponents to score twice in less than a minute.
“It’s something we’ve got to stop doing because it’s costing us games,” Niclas Wallin said. “We all have mistakes out there, but we’ve got to minimize them and be comfortable in playing a 0-0 game or being down 1-0 or 2-0 when there is a lot of hockey left to play. We know we’re a team that can come back. It’s hurting us, but we’re a team and we win together and lose together here and then get back to work.”
St. Louis had scored five goals in the first period in nine games to start the season before notching three against the Canes in a span of 8:20.
The Canes had gone 1-for-20 on the power play to start the season at home, but cashed in on a Joe Corvo blast with the man advantage with 53 seconds left in the first to cut the deficit to 3-1.
NOTES: Carolina’s seven points in its first 11 games is the team’s worst start since the 1997-98 season when the team had six points in its first season in Greensboro. … The NHL’s most-penalized team added to that total early with fights by Harrison and Tim Conboy in the opening 6:02. … Ward started his 11th straight game in net. … Tim Gleason missed his third straight game with an upper body injury. … The 18 shots by St. Louis was a season-low for a Carolina opponent. …. Carolina had 22 of its shots blocked.