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Recap: Guentzel, Penguins easily dispatch unconfident Hurricanes; Bishop, Kuokkanen recalled

The Hurricanes are lost inside their own heads, and it showed in every facet of the game.

Jamie Kellner

RALEIGH — The recap on this one will be short. Jake Guentzel scored two goals, and Sidney Crosby added three assists as the Pittsburgh Penguins easily dispatched the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 on Saturday night at PNC Arena. Matt Murray earned the shutout, his second of the season and first since blanking the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 18.

The Penguins got going early as Sidney Crosby fought off Justin Faulk behind the net with one arm and used the other to set up Kris Letang for a doorstep tap-in to open the scoring 8:41 into the game. Carolina thought they had tied it with two minutes to go when Dougie Hamilton’s shot hit the crossbar, and despite referee T.J. Luxmore emphatically signaling a goal, a short replay overturned the referee and kept the score at 1-0.

A bright spot in the first period was the play of Warren Foegele, who earned two breakaways and could have drawn a penalty on either of them, but Murray shut them both down. The first was especially impressive, as Foegele harrassed Evgeni Malkin into a turnover at the blue line, and forced Murray into an impressive save at the other end.

In the second, Guentzel took over, taking advantage of a sleeping Phil Di Giuseppe to make it a 2-0 game three minutes into the period, then adding his second with 51 seconds left. By that point, the Hurricanes fans were at their wits’ end, Bronx-cheering the minute-to-go announcement.

Less than two games after returning from a concussion, Jordan Staal exited the game at the second intermission with what the team was calling an upper-body injury.

The Hurricanes’ power play reverted to its struggles from earlier in the season, going 0-for-4 while generating just one shot - naturally, it was Dougie Hamilton, who extended his streak to 199 consecutive games with a shot on goal - and while the penalty kill was a perfect 3-for-3, the Canes got no momentum off their man disadvantages.

And now for a bit of an editorial.

This is my twelfth year chronicling the Hurricanes for various and sundry outlets. I can’t remember a time when I was more disillusioned watching the team. Yes, we have a press box seat, and yes, there’s no cheering in the press box, but it’s fun to watch good hockey. This isn’t fun anymore. It’s excruciating.

Twice in the first period, Sebastian Aho passed up two grade-A scoring chances, opting to pass into lower-percentage situations. Yeah, the shots that Teuvo Teravainen and Micheal Ferland took would be classified as high-danger scoring chances, but there’s no creativity to the Canes’ play anymore. Everyone in the building knew that Aho was going to pass the puck. Including Matt Murray, who made two easy saves as a result.

The Hurricanes outshoot teams nightly. In fact, they have outshot the opposition in 72 of 102 periods this season. Yet here we are, imploring the team to shoot more. It’s not a shot volume thing; it’s a decision-making thing, and the Canes are making inexplicably awful decisions both with the puck and on defense. They can say all they want about doing the little things and playing the right way, but none of that means diddly squat if they can’t make decisions at the level required of NHL players.

This shouldn’t be something that needs to be coached, and I hesitate to criticize Rod Brind’Amour because of it. If you’re an NHL coach, why would you need to motivate your players to do what they know they need to do to succeed at this level? But whatever it is, it isn’t working.

The Canes are who they are: a middling defensive team that too easily gets frustrated and knocked off their game when things aren’t falling on offense. The lack of confidence shows, and grows with every passing opposition save, every turnover behind the net, every missed assignment, every one-pass-too-many. It’s altogether too much at this point. The Canes are lost inside their own heads, and the front office needs to dispatch a search party to find them.

They Said It

Rod Brind’Amour:

A great start for us, I felt, we were engaged for sure. Unfortunately it was just like the other night, where we probably deserved a little better in the first period based on the chances, but it didn’t happen. Our power play was terrible, and that’s our best players. That’s the time they need to make plays, and — zero. That, to me, was where the momentum shifted. In the second period we had a couple power plays, and it just sucked the life out of everybody.

They’re pass-first players. When you’re not scoring, you’re looking for that better play. That’s something we’ve talked about to try not to do, but it’s tough when they’re not scoring. They look to make it a little cuter than it probably would need to be.

We’re at game 35, and it’s been like this the whole year. It hasn’t happened overnight that they’re losing their confidence. I think it’s dejecting, for sure, when you have a couple breakaways and a couple posts in there, some pretty good looks. I can see it. I’ve been there. I know it’s frustrating. There’s no real answer to that. Putting pucks in the net - you can say you’ve got to get to the net, but at the end of the day you’ve got to go bar down, not to the middle of the net.

You can’t manufacture it. You have to just keep doing it right. That’s what we’ve been trying to do. We had a couple breakdowns, obviously, and that’s going to happen in a game. The difference was that they capitalized on those chances, and when they had their breakdowns, we didn’t.

Brett Pesce:

We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have a game tomorrow against a really good team. We just have to look forward to it.

[Are you overthinking it?] I don’t think so. To be honest I thought we were all over them in the first. I thought we could have had a few there in the net. The bounces just aren’t coming for us. We just have to stick to the program, trust each other in this room and believe in each other. That’s how we’re going to get out of this.

I don’t think [our confidence] is that low. Guys are trying to make plays, which is obviously key. Rod is stressing just sticking with it, which is what we have to do.

Jordan Martinook:

We didn’t deflate at all, you can see everyone starts gripping it a little tighter. Our margin is so small right now that you’re down by two and it feels like you’re down by four. We have got to get our mindset that if they score on us, don’t worry about it, just go out the next shift and try to score.

I know every guy in this room wants to score. We’re not trying not to score. It’s just not going in for us right now.

What did we hit, three posts too? Not like we’re getting a ton of puck luck either. When you’re in these situations, when you’re struggling to score, it’s that much harder. We had a stretch earlier in the year where we weren’t scoring, and you can just see how much harder it is to score. You aren’t getting those easy ones where you block a shot and a guy gets a breakaway and it’s a nice, easy goal.

The margin of error is a lot smaller, and we just have to keep bearing down, keep coming, come back tomorrow. It’s against a good Boston team and we just have to stick with our game plan: go in, forecheck, put pucks on the net, and go after second chances.

Game Notes

  • I kind of said earlier what I’d typically put in the game notes section, just to get it off my chest, so this won’t be long.
  • I don’t know if I should be impressed or concerned that the Hurricanes to a man are toeing the company line of “work hard and good things will come.” What else can be coached into them at this point? Brind’Amour obviously has a finger on the pulse of the locker room, and hasn’t lost the team, which just reinforces the fact that the mental stuff isn’t fixable through coaching. It will just need to come organically, but who knows how long that might take?
  • Just imagine what this would be like if the Canes didn’t have acceptable goaltending on top of all the other stuff they’re going through.
  • The Hurricanes won’t take a morning skate tomorrow. Warm-up at 4:30, faceoff just after 5. Enjoy the Whale.

Following the game, the Hurricanes recalled Janne Kuokkanen and Clark Bishop from the Charlotte Checkers. Bishop will presumably replace Staal in the lineup tomorrow night, and there’s no word on another injury so we’ll see who, if anyone, Kuokkanen will slot in for. The release from the team is below.


Kuokkanen ranks second on Charlotte in points

Don Waddell, President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that the team has recalled forwards Clark Bishop and Janne Kuokkanen from the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League.

Bishop, 22, has posted five points (3g, 2a) in 15 AHL games with the Checkers this season. The St. John’s, N.L., native has recorded two points (1g, 1a) in 15 games with the Hurricanes. Bishop made his NHL debut on Oct. 20 vs. Colorado and tallied his first NHL points (1g, 1a) on Dec. 7 at Anaheim. The 6’1”, 199-pound forward was drafted by the Hurricanes in the fifth round, 127th overall, of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Kuokkanen, 20, ranks second on the Checkers with 27 points (11g, 16a) in 29 games, and has appeared in three NHL games with the Hurricanes this season. The Oulunsalo, Finland, native has registered 67 points (22g, 45a) in 89 career AHL games with Charlotte. The 6’1”, 193-pound forward was drafted by the Hurricanes in the second round, 43rd overall, of the 2016 NHL Draft and represented Finland at the 2017 and 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships.