Whatever the reason, the Hurricanes couldn’t connect on a number of fronts en route to a 4-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, snapping the team’s eight-game home winning streak in which they had outscored opponents 34-14 to keep the playoff chase interesting heading into mid-March.
But as the remaining regular-season games begin to dwindle, every loss like this one on home ice hurts that much more.
“We are fighting for our lives and it’s a tough pill to swallow, to lose a game like this,” said Jussi Jokinen.
Phoenix is the mystery team of the NHL, having scored just 43 first-period goals coming into this one with a power-play that is dead last in the league. Still, the Coyotes seem to find a way by not giving up leads and getting superior goaltending – both of which were front and center against the Canes, who played this one without injured center Brandon Sutter.
“Having Brandon out affects our team,” Maurice said. “He’s developed into a two-way guy and he had (Tuomo) Ruutu going pretty good there. It let us do different things off the bench and match our lines and get Staal’s line away from the opposition’s big set of D a bit.”
“We had our lines pretty much set the last few weeks, so it’s tough to lose a guy like Sutter,” added Jokinen, who was bumped down to the second line with Sutter out with a lower body injury. “He’s been pretty good for us. We had to juggle our lines a little bit and we just couldn’t find any offense tonight.”
Phoenix improved to a remarkable 31-3-2 this season when scoring first, and Ilya Bryzgalov, who was 0-3 with a 5.08 goals against average in his career against Carolina, was on top of his game to notch his 36th victory.
Carolina, on an offensive roll for the last month, was shut out for the first time since falling to Dallas 2-0 on Nov. 23 and lost for just the fifth time since mid-January.
Like they’ve done all season, the Coyotes capitalized on a few opportunities, scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes and leading 3-0 after two periods on a total of just 12 shots on Justin Peters.
Maurice said Peters earned a repeat start after his win over Pittsburgh on Thursday.
“We lost a battle behind the net on the first one, on the second, third and fourth goals I didn’t think he had a chance on,” Maurice said of Peters. “It looks that way because they don’t get a lot of shots, so he’s got to be the difference in the game, and then you get the guy at the other end making the saves that he does. But I don’t think you lay this one on his doorstep.
“We’ve been giving guys (in net) a chance to go twice -- you know, get a good game in and get another one to get a good feel.”
Twice in the first period Erik Cole had golden chances to score for the Canes, including a breakaway, only to come up empty while Lee Stempniak notched two goals for Phoenix.
“If we get one goal there it’s still a tight game and we could have gotten our crowd behind us and got going, but we didn’t find one,” Jokinen said.
Stempniak’s first came on a stuff chance 2:35 into the game and his second midway through a four-minute high-sticking penalty against call-up Jerome Samson. It was just the third man-advantage goal in the last 49 chances for Phoenix, spanning 14 games.
Carolina’s defense became somewhat loose in the second period and the Canes paid for it with 6:10 left, even though Martin Hanzal scored off a bad break when Alexandre Picard’s deflected puck out of the corner bounced right into the slot for Hanzal to tee it up as Brett Carson turned the opposite direction looking skyward for the puck.
The Canes had an opportunity to get back into the game in the opening minute of the third with a two-man advantage for 30 seconds, but Bryzgalov stopped Rod Brind’Amour and Joni Pitkanen with sprawling glove saves and Hanzal sealed it with a goal 2:45 into the period.
In the end, Maurice said the Canes couldn’t get enough traffic in front of the Russian goalie.
“We were having a hard time around the net, no question,” Maurice said. “We felt if we got one we would have a chance to get it going and they did a good making sure we didn’t. Where we lost this one was 10 feet around the net.”
NOTES: Carolina fell to 1-5 this season against teams from the Pacific Division. … The Canes had scored at least four goals in each game during their home winning streak. … Paul Maurice moved within one of 800 games coached with the Hurricanes franchise. … The Canes were shut out for the fifth time this season. … Samson led the team with five shots. … The Canes are now 18-13-3 at the RBC Center with seven home games left.