Game Analysis: Flames At Hurricanes

Anton Khudobin was the bright spot for the Hurricanes in a 2-0 loss to Calgary Tuesday at PNC Arena. - James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time this season, the Carolina Hurricanes couldn't solve the Calgary Flames, losing 3-0 at PNC Arena and suffering their second consecutive shutout defeat.

The Carolina Hurricanes got Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty and Riley Nash back in the lineup for Tuesday’s home game vs. the Flames, but they could not find their scoring touch. For the second straight game, the Canes were held scoreless and dropped to 19-18-9 and seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, four points out of third in the division and three out of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Three Observations

1. With Jay Harrison out of the lineup, the Hurricanes lacked some toughness in their lineup, and the Flames took advantage. Shane O’Brien pestered the Hurricanes and tried to goad Brett Bellemore into a fight several times, a tradeoff that wouldn't have made sense given that Bellemore plays in a top-four role and O’Brien is a 10-minute-a-night agitator. Which raises a larger issue: the Hurricanes lack the kind of grit and toughness that allows them to dictate play — see Monday’s game and the loss at Columbus — and Jim Rutherford needs to address the fact that the Canes’ last two "agitators" were Chad LaRose and Nathan Gerbe.

2. So how does Rutherford correct this problem? He needs to go and get a gritty player who can contribute in ways other than fighting (ie. not another Kevin Westgarth). Who better than Steve Ott, the Buffalo captain who is overpaid ($3.2 million salary this year and next, $2.95 million cap hit) but could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the oft-uninspired Hurricanes? The Hurricanes need a player like Ott, and also haven't found an answer at third-line center. With Ryan Miller likely headed elsewhere, couldn't the Hurricanes package Justin Peters and a pick or prospect to get Ott? It's a move worth exploring, and perhaps even doing as soon as possible.

3. Carolina’s 26th-ranked power play is much discussed and oft-maligned, but the penalty kill has been just as inefficient this season. At 79 percent, the Hurricanes’ shorthanded unit is 25th in the league. While the team’s league-leading eight shorthanded goals are more than half the number of power play goals (13) the team has this season and help bolster the penalty kill’s reputation, it doesn't mask Carolina’s mediocre kill rate. The Flames opened the scoring on the power play and it proved to be the game-winning goal.

Number To Know

8:05 — Minutes for Tuomo Ruutu, whose role with Carolina seems to be slipping away as the Hurricanes get healthier. Ruutu finished with no hits and can't seem to find a home on any line. With $5 million left on his contract for two more years, it's doubtful Ruutu is going anywhere. So if he's going to be in the lineup, he needs to be physical and hope he finds a way to contribute.

Plus

Anton Khudobin — Khudobin was Carolina’s best player, keeping the Hurricanes in the game while his teammates failed to generate a sustained attack. Despite back-to-back losses — his first defeats this season — Khudobin still sits at 6-2 with a .935 save percentage and 2.02 goals-against average.

Minus

Riley Nash — In his first game back, Nash played only 6:06 and didn't see the ice in the game’s final 23-plus minutes. Perhaps Nash wasn't ready to get back in the lineup, but his benching and Kirk Muller’s late-game line shuffling further expose the fact that Carolina is lacking a No. 3 center.

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