Three days before the trade deadline, the Carolina Hurricanes continue to make Ron Francis’s decision glaringly obvious. Either they are approaching a Cleveland Cavaliers-style complete roster revamp, or they are going to start selling pieces. The latest embarrassment, a 6-1 capitulation to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday at PNC Arena, effectively seals their fate: the roster as currently constructed, despite their coach’s and general manager’s protestations to the contrary, is not good enough to make the playoffs, which are a little more than a month away but have never felt so far from the Canes’ grasp.
Playing without Jordan Staal, who was with his wife awaiting the birth of their child, the Canes looked like they were out of sorts from the start. The few chances that Carolina had generally missed the net in some form or fashion, none more obvious than when Brett Pesce fired wide on Matt Murray with the Pens goaltender scrambling to get across to defend a two-on-one.
Jake Guentzel got the Pens on the board with 6:30 to go in the first, after Noah Hanifin’s pass for Victor Rask was stolen off the center’s stick. Guentzel put a shot on goal that rebounded off Cam Ward but right to Phil Kessel, who set Guentzel up for a tap-in at the far post.
Less than a minute into the second period, the Penguins doubled their lead when Olli Maatta fired the puck off a faceoff through a maze of players and into the top corner of the Carolina net. But a minute and a half later, Sebastian Aho kept the puck alive by beating out an icing and setting up Elias Lindholm at the top of the slot. Lindholm’s pass to Teuvo Teravainen was in the winger’s skate, but he kicked it to his stick and roofed it over Murray.
The following shifts were Carolina’s best of the night, putting six shots on Murray while maintaining nearly continuous zone time, but they couldn’t tie the game. And, as one would expect when a team doesn’t score despite skating circles, the Pens came right back down the ice and scored. Teravainen’s lethargic pass from his own zone found Brian Dumoulin, who set up Guentzel on a 2-on-1 with Kessel that the veteran buried with ease. Two minutes later, the lead extended out to three goals, as Riley Sheahan swiped the puck in the neutral zone and set up Kessel for a shot that Ward stopped most of but found a way to trickle through his pads.
The Penguins thought they had extended their lead in the opening minute of the third period when Carl Hagelin scored on a deflection from a faceoff win, but the officials ruled that Hagelin had kicked the puck into the net so the game remained 4-1 for the time being. The Canes had a half-chance seconds into an Aho high-sticking penalty but Joakim Nordstrom and Josh Jooris couldn’t connect, and a minute later Sidney Crosby scored his 20th to give the Pens their four-goal lead.
And when Evgeni Malkin made it 6-1, untouched at the side of the net for three straight whacks on the Canes net, the final indignity came when Ward smashed his stick on the post to his right, then flung the driftwood down the ice, earning himself a misconduct in the process but showing more emotion and drive in that one moment than his teammates had at any other point of the game.
The Canes now begin a three-game road trip that kicks off tomorrow night in Detroit, a meeting of one team that’s written the playoffs off for months and another that essentially consigned their chances tonight.
Rank the Performances
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