Pens still sputtering on offense, lose to Hurricanes
After the Penguins offense failed to put much heat on Nikolai Khabibulin on Friday night, coach Rick Kehoe decided to make some changes Saturday.
For just the second game this season and the first since the opener, Mario Lemieux, Alexei Kovalev and Aleksey Morozov did not play together. The line had been the most prolific in the NHL through the first 11 games of the season, combining for 79 points. But in the previous two games they had cooled off. Lemieux had one goal and one assist, Kovalev one assist and Morozov had nothing.
But without their power play on the ice regularly, the Penguins struggled again. The Hurricanes sent the Penguins packing with a 3-2 defeat, ending the road trip at 0-2-0-1. They gained only one point out of a possible six and the momentum they had just a week earlier is gone.
The Penguins now have four days off before they play in Minnesota.
“I think we played well tonight,” said Alexandre Daigle. “For two periods on the road it was 1-1 and then 2-1 for us. That’s where we want to be. Then it came down to special teams. That’s about it.”
Daigle took Kovalev’s spot on the wing, and Kovalev, who had a tough road trip, played with Jan Hrdina and Martin Straka. Daigle had goals in both of the Penguins’ last two games.
He made it three in a row after an early third-period goal survived a video review, but the Penguins didn’t survive a Canes power play two minutes later. David Tanabe, who took a shot in the chin early in the game, scored glove-side on a one-timer at 7:09 and the game was locked again.
Kovalev was called for hooking at 12:08 after a battle in the corner in the Penguins’ end with Erik Cole. Kovalev was behind Cole and had his stick between his legs. Cole leaned forward and Kovalev’s stick came up at the same time. Cole took a tap in the face then fell to his knees.
The Penguins killed off the penalty but for the second time in a row the Hurricanes scored seconds after the advantage expired. Kevyn Adams batted the puck around behind net to Bates Battaglia, and he just threw it at goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin from the side of the net. There was a hole there somewhere and Battaglia found it with just less than six minutes to play.
“It’s frustrating,” Aubin said. “You work so hard for a game and you see these fluky goals. I think if I would have seen it all the way I don’t think it would have gone in. I didn’t know where the puck was and when I saw it I guess my stick was up already. I went down and squeezed my pads as hard as I could but I guess it was already in.”
In all, the Penguins had eight calls against them and the Hurricanes five. The Penguins had to kill off one 5-on-3 in the second period for 1:52. After the game, the Penguins were frustrated with what they felt were questionable calls.
“Now, especially, we’re not getting that many power plays,” Morozov said. “Things are going so bad for us. The refs are calling everything against us and it’s tough to play like this. You’re more tired after the game. That’s the way it was (Friday) night in the third period. We were tired after killing so many penalties. I think that’s why we lost the last three games.”
Martin Straka got his first goal since returning to the lineup on a first-period power play. But Adams tied the scored at 8:02. The Penguins had just killed a tripping penalty to Ville Nieminen, and the puck was bouncing after Adams made a move around Penguins defenseman Dick Tarnstrom in the right circle. He still got a whack at it and found a hole between Aubin’s left arm and leg pad.
The Penguins did get one power play when Adams was called for holding at 16:25 in the third period, but a slashing call on Hrdina canceled it out with a minute to go.
“It’s really bad, one point on the road trip,” Morozov said. “It’s really tough. But we have the time right now to learn our mistakes and try to be ready for the next games. It’ll be a good time to get home and rest up.”
Karen Price is a former freelancer.