Led by Pascal Dupuis’ two goals, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Canes 3-0 on Saturday, marking the second consecutive time that the Hurricanes have been shut out at home this season. Like the previous game against Washington on Wednesday, the Canes generated good chances but lacked both the necessary finishing touch and the ability to solve a hot goaltender.
Pittsburgh’s Brent Johnson was their adversary in this one, improving his already-stellar numbers to start the season by making 33 saves for his first shutout since April 1, 2006, and keeping the Canes scoreless in their own building.
”I thought we had more, better, higher-quality chances tonight than we did in the Washington game,” said coach Paul Maurice. “Their guy made some big saves and held that line pretty good.”
While Johnson was there when needed, making his best save of the night with a quick glove on Anton Babchuk’s power-play effort in the second period, the Canes left the contest disappointed with their ability to finish. That was especially true during a 46-second two-man advantage early in the third period, in which the Canes never seriously tested Johnson as they made poor passes and struggled to set up good opportunities
“We just needed to be sharper,” said Maurice. “The idea is to shoot it as much as you can, but it’s very difficult to one-time a puck if it’s not off your back foot. That caused us problems. Just not sharp with the puck and moving it too slow.”
In other instances, the Canes couldn’t quite convert on loose pucks around the Pittsburgh crease and gave Johnson too much time to react.
“It’s so close right now, and we just have to be a little grittier in front of their net,” said Tuomo Ruutu. “It’s small things like stopping in front of the net, being right in front of the goal and not on the side, and shooting pucks every time we get the chance. I think we’re going to get some goals in the future.”
By far the best chance of the night for the Hurricanes came on the first shift of the third period, when Jiri Tlusty, who had just moved up from the fourth line, missed an open net after receiving a great centering feed from Brandon Sutter. His shot ended up hitting the outside of the near post, which more or less summed up the team’s overall offensive frustrations.
“If we get one (goal) in here, we give (the crowd) a reason to get up and get cheering, and we just couldn’t,” said Maurice. “That might have been the one to get us going.”
Further slowing the Canes’ momentum was the fact that Pittsburgh’s goals came on odd-man rushes after the home team had missed great chances to find the back of the net. That was true of each of Dupuis’ goals, including in the first period when the Canes had looked like the team more likely to strike first, and then in the third when Dupuis his the inside of the far post immediately after the failed five-on-three power play.
“I was happy with our start tonight,” said Tim Gleason. “We had a great start and we were coming out with a lot of energy in the first and second periods, but nothing really went our way.”
“We were all over them for two or three solid minutes in their end and getting a lot of chances,” said Jeff Skinner. “Sometimes we just didn’t get the bounces.”
Sandwiched between Dupuis’ efforts, in which the winger looked off Pens’ superstar Sidney Crosby and elected to shoot himself, was a similar effort by Maxime Talbot in the second period. The play began when Anton Babchuk was caught pinching along the wall at his own blue line, resulting in a two-on-one against Jay Harrison and Cam Ward. Puck-carrier Arron Asham found Talbot streaking in alone after he had beaten Skinner back to the goal.
“Our back pressure wasn’t as good,” said Maurice. “A couple of guys, I don’t know if they quit skating or couldn’t skate, but they’re a very, very fast team and their transition game is good.”
The game ended with Maurice changing line combinations to try to find a spark. That included breaking up the line of Ruutu, Skinner and Erik Cole that had accounted for all four goals in the previous night’s road victory against the New York Rangers.
“I didn’t think that Ruutu’s line was getting what they were getting last night, and I thought that we needed more out of Eric (Staal)’s wingers,” said Maurice, who started with Jussi Jokinen and Sergei Samsonov with Staal on the top line.
The Canes now hit the road again for Monday’s game in Philadelphia. They finish the month of October at even 5-5, which is a record they may have taken before the season given their difficult schedule but now seems almost disappointing given how well they’ve played at times.
“When I look at our losses, and I don’t excuse any of them, we gave what we had tonight and we’ve done it on pretty much every night that we’ve played,” said Maurice. “The fight was good, the fight on the bench was good, and I like this team.”