But after 68 shots in two games and some of their best hockey to date, the Canes are still running on empty, wasting a two-goal lead at home Friday night to the Maple Leafs en route to a 3-2 loss – the club’s 11th in a row.
The Canes led 2-0 after 20 minutes, saw Toronto tie it in the second and then let it slip away when Rod Brind’Amour was called for a holding penalty with 10:52 remaining and the Maple Leafs, with the second-best power-play unit on the road, capitalized 44 seconds after the captain took a seat in the box.
“We were irritated to take that call based on the way the game was played for 30 minutes,” coach Paul Maurice said.
Once again the Canes were buzzing around the opposing net and had more than a dozen great scoring chances, but managed just two goals or less for the 12th time in 15 games and have just five goals in their last six by players other than Brandon Sutter, who has three goals in six games since being called up from the minors.
“Our effort has been better, and we’ve got more offensive confidence, we’re just not finishing,” Maurice said. “That’s the painful part. In our last two games we’ve generated more even though we haven’t had a healthy lineup. Their goalie played well, made some big saves for them.”
“It’s probably one of the more difficult parts of the game to be honest with you,” Sutter added when asked about the mental strain of a long losing streak. “But we’re doing OK with it. We’re going to keep working, we’ve got to stay with it and we’re going to come out of this.”
After taking a rare two-goal lead, the Canes quickly gave it back as Toronto scored twice in the opening 7:23 of the second period as the game’s momentum shifted.
Zach Boychuk had an opportunity to give Carolina a one-goal lead heading into the third when he stole a pass a center ice late in the period and raced in alone on Jonas Gustavsson, but the rookie was stopped by the opposing rookie netminder as the Canes have now been outscored 22-9 this season in the second period.
Jason Blake was able to give the Leafs just their second win of the season with a quick wrist shot from the right circle with the man advantage, sending the Canes to the very bottom of the NHL standings with just seven points in their first 15 games despite 18 third-period shots.
“I thought we outplayed them the first and second periods, and penalties happen. It’s just part of the game. That’s just the way it goes,” said defenseman Andrew Alberts.
“We have to look at the positives because we’re playing in 24 hours,” Sutter said of the team’s road trip to Columbus. “We have another chance to get a win.”
Carolina, struggling to score in the first period so far this season, got a good break to go up 1-0 less than eight minutes in the game when a hard pass from the right point by Joe Corvo to Brind’Amour ricocheted off the captain’s skate and right to Sutter in the slot. Sutter was able to fight off Toronto defenseman Ian White and send a backhander into the top of the net.
The Canes took a two-goal lead for just the third time all season when Sergei Samsonov pounced on a juicy rebound with 2:38 left in the first. Prior to Samsonov’s goal, Sutter had scored Carolina’s last three dating to the Philadelphia game last Saturday.
Brind’Amour failed to give the Canes a 3-0 lead on the power play when his shot from the high slot hit the post with 11 seconds remaining in the period.
The Canes skated without three-time All-Star Eric Staal and Ray Whitney, the team’s top two scorers from a season ago who are both sidelined with upper body injuries. Boychuk replaced Whitney in the lineup and started on a line with Matt Cullen and Erik Cole.
Boychuk logged 15:11 of ice time and finished with a team-best five shots.
NOTES: With Staal and Whitney out, Cullen and Tim Gleason wore the “A” as alternate captains. … Alberts' assist on Carolina’s second goal was his first point of the season. … Six of Alberts’ 33 career points have come against Toronto. …. Carolina had 23 of its shots blocked. …. Brind’Amour won all seven of his faceoffs. … The Canes went scoreless on three power plays and are now 0-for-16 with the man advantage over the last four games.