A night after the Carolina Hurricanes played maybe their most dominant game of the season, they crashed right back to earth on Saturday as the Pittsburgh Penguins took a split of their home-and-home series, winning 3-2 in front of 16,225 at PNC Arena on Saturday night.
For Canes coach Bill Peters, the reason was simple: too many big-name passengers on the home bench. "We've got guys that we need to be on the scoresheet consistently. When they're not, we're in trouble," he told the media. "We have secondary scoring, but we need primary scoring. We need some guys to get up there and be there on a consistent basis."
The game started with a similar script to Friday's Canes victory in Pittsburgh. Justin Faulk gave the Canes the lead on the power play at 3:39, bombing a one-timer past Penguins goaltender Thomas Greiss, but then the Canes gave the lead right back when Chris Kunitz deflected an Evgeni Malkin shot behind Anton Khudobin just 17 seconds later.
Things started going off script when Robert Bortuzzo, who took the penalty that led to Faulk's goal, took a stretch pass from Paul Martin and skated right between John-Michael Liles and Jay Harrison, wristing a shot past a surprised Khudobin at 5:32. Harrison and Liles seemed to each lose track of where the other was, and as a result they both looked rather clueless as Bortuzzo undressed them.
Later in the period, Nathan Gerbe shoved an off-balance Simon Despres into the boards on a clean play, earning a roughing penalty for defending his honor against Jayson Megna but earning a loud ovation from the crowd. Gerbe, ever the showman, even cracked a wry smile for the camera after taking a seat in the penalty box.
Early on the resulting power play, Michal Jordan hit the post on a wide-open shot as the Penguins looked reminiscent of the early-October Hurricanes penalty kill. Jordan, playing his second game since his callup from Charlotte earlier in the week, contributed at his own end of the ice as well, shoving Blake Comeau out of the way on what would have been a tap-in goal with a couple of minutes left in the period.
The second period saw no scoring, but plenty of chances for both teams. Eric Staal came the closest of anyone, Greiss denying him on a backhander on a 2-on-1 after Khudobin did likewise a few seconds earlier at the other end of the ice. Khudobin then stopped a wide-open Christian Ehrhoff with two minutes to go in the period, following a no-look backhand pass from Sidney Crosby who was held pointless on the night.
The third period was rather uneventful to start, but at 10:09 both the crowd and the goal light operator were fooled by a Victor Rask shot that lodged itself in the back of the net. The Canes, though, looked to be feeling the weight of back-to-back games, and their lackadaisicalness caught up with them at 15:27 when Ehrhoff took advantage of a lazy Carolina line change and atoned for his earlier near-miss by cleaning up his own rebound at the near post.
A Nick Spaling goalie-interference penalty with 1:13 to go gave the Canes life, and Elias Lindholm pulled the home team to within one at 19:48 with Khudobin on the bench, but there wasn't enough time for a miracle and the Penguins exacted a small bit of revenge, splitting the home-and-home and giving general manager Jim Rutherford a win on his first return to Raleigh as Penguins boss.
Peters said after the game that Khudobin, who despite some excellent performances this season remains winless, deserves more than his team gave him tonight. "He's been fine. I'm sure it's been frustrating for him," said Peters. "We haven't scored when he's been in the net. We haven't given him enough support offensively. We need to score, and we didn't score 5-on-5 tonight."
As the Canes enter an important homestand that could set a significant tone for the rest of the year, Faulk said that the schedule works in the team's favor. "You want to be hard to play against at home," he said. "Knowing that we have those home games, it's nice to get back here, but we want to try to win as many as we can and carry that over to when we go on the road next."
- Ehrhoff's goal was his first as a Penguin. He had not scored a goal in his previous 45 games. His most recent goal before tonight? Against the Canes last February, when he was a member of the Buffalo Sabres.
- Lindholm's goal at the end of the third period was his team-high seventh in November, snapping a four-game goalless drought. Only Tlusty, with ten goals, is ahead of Lindholm in the season stats.
- Faulk's goal and Staal's assist on Lindholm's goal pulled the two into a three-way tie with Riley Nash atop the Canes scoring chart with 15 points apiece. Calgary's Mark Giordano is the only defenseman in the league who has more points in November than Faulk's 13.
- Postgame audio: Nathan Gerbe , Justin Faulk , Bill Peters .
Canes Country Three Stars
3. Nathan Gerbe: If only for that one shining moment that will surely be on the season-recap highlight film. Even without that, though, Gerbe was everywhere. It's really sort of surprising there aren't more #14 jerseys in the crowd night after night, because the bang for the buck that Gerbe provides is unmatched on the Canes' roster.
2. Justin Faulk: That slow start is a distant memory now, and he is right back to being the engine that drives the Canes' defense. His goal was a deserved reward for helping to shut Crosby down after the Penguins' captain assisted on both Pittsburgh goals last night.
1. Evgeni Malkin: Unfortunately, shutting Crosby down is only half the battle, and Malkin was dominant largely facing Victor Rask's unit tonight. He was on the ice for all three Penguins goals, although he only figured into the scoring for Kunitz's redirection, and the Canes simply had no answer for him defensively.
Next up: Peter Laviolette's Nashville Predators make their only appearance in Raleigh this season on Tuesday night at 7:00 on FS Carolinas and 99.9 The Fan.