With points getting more and more critical as the regular season draws to a close, the Canes went 0-9 on the man advantage, including three separate five-on-threes and a shorthanded goal allowed, in a 3-2 loss to the Blue Jackets. The nine opportunities were a season high for Carolina, which is on a 3-61 skid spanning its last 15 games.
“The power play has got to find its way to get the puck in the net and get some confidence,” said coach Paul Maurice. “There are good power-play people out there and they’re squeezing it. You can just see them hanging onto it a half second too long.”
Unlike some instances in their current power-play slump, the Hurricanes generated some high-quality scoring chances throughout the night. Those included an Eric Staal miss from the side of the net and a sparkling save by Columbus goaltender Steve Mason on Tuomo Ruutu in the second period, but those were nothing compared to what Jussi Jokinen experienced with the Hurricanes down 2-1 in the third period.
With just 2:07 left on the clock and the Blue Jackets’ Fedor Tyutin in the box for tripping, Jokinen saw his shot from in close go just wide of a completely empty cage as Mason was sprawled outside the crease. Seconds later, in a cruel twist of fate, the visitors’ Derek MacKenzie hit the Canes’ empty net from a considerably farther distance, making the score 3-1, which was good enough to hold off Ruutu’s late consolation goal.
“Obviously the whole net was empty,” said Jokinen. “You try to get it off your stick as quick as you can, but it was spinning so much and it just missed the net by a couple of inches. That was the difference in the game, and I need to put the puck in the net.”
“We have guys that normally won’t miss those, and then we miss some dandies tonight,” said Maurice. “We just had too many good opportunities not to finish.”
Mason, who finished with 29 saves, was looking at a shutout midway through the third period when the Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner finally got the Canes on the board as an Erik Cole pass found him behind the Jackets’ defense immediately after a neutral-zone faceoff win by Jokinen.
Until Ruutu’s goal with 35 seconds left on the clock to bring it back within one, that was the only chance the Hurricanes were able to convert on a night when they had several.
“You’ve got to put pucks in the net. I think we had every chance imaginable and it’s just not finding a way to the back of the net,” said Staal, who finished with a game-high seven shots on goal.
“I’m sure it’s frustrating watching, but you have no idea being down on the ice and getting those looks and having them not drop.”
On the Hurricanes’ first prolonged power play in the game’s first five minutes, Jokinen nearly gave the Canes an early lead on a breakaway chance that was stopped by Mason. However, Columbus’ Sami Pahlsson countered on a shorthanded three-on-two that would set an early tone for the Canes’ struggles.
“Juss gets the breakaway and we don’t score, and then it’s in your net,” said Maurice.
MacKenzie would add to the lead just 42 seconds into the second period, as his shot from the left faceoff circle beat Cam Ward cleanly on the glove side.
Those would be the only blemishes for a Hurricanes’ defense that has played well enough to win in recent games but hasn’t been able to get over the hump due to the lack of offensive support.
“Confidence is such a critical piece to your offensive guys,” said Maurice. “I didn’t think we generated a lot in some games two or three weeks ago, but in our last handful of games we’ve had a lot of really good chances to score and it’s just not falling. It’s going to have to soon.”
The loss capped off a disappointing week for the Canes, who took just one point out of a possible six after an overtime defeat to Atlanta on Wednesday and a regulation loss in Washington on Friday. They remain in the playoff hunt thanks to favorable results around the league, but know that they’ll need better results over their remaining 13 contests.
“It’s not game 80,” said Maurice. “There’s still time on the clock, but we feel the urgency and everybody understands exactly where we’re at.”
“This team cares,” said Staal. “We want to win and we want to be in the playoffs. This loss by no means means we’re out of it.”
NOTES: The Hurricanes spent a total of 2:11 at five-on-three … Columbus snapped a seven-game losing streak that included three overtime losses … Columbus has won four consecutive games against Carolina … the Canes killed all five Columbus power plays … With his assist, Cole tied Ron Francis for fourth in Hurricanes scoring with 354 points … the Hurricanes were without defenseman Jamie McBain, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury suffered Friday night in Washington. Derek Joslin played in his stead, and was the only Hurricanes player with a positive plus/minus rating (+1).