Everyone expected this to be a rough one. NHL.com was proclaiming all day that this was Paul Maurice and the ‘Canes’ first test, and if it was, they failed spectacularly – if predictably.
The Penguins looked appropriately confident and the Hurricanes looked energized but disjointed, and a bit lost without starting goaltender Cam Ward. Pittsburgh’s dynamic offense and power play took advantage of the ‘Canes to the tune of five goals on 22 shots, ruining Paul Maurice’s first stint behind the Carolina bench in five years and Justin William’s first insertion into the line-up since last March.
Williams underwent surgery on a torn Achilles tendon before training camp and was not expected back until January at the earliest. However, due to what the right winger could only describe to Tripp Tracy as “good healing genes,” he made it back a month earlier than expected. Williams played a respectable 13:50 with no points.
“The worst thing I could do out there is be passive or complacent and wait for things to happen,” Williams said of finding his old groove again. “The more I get in there and the more I initiate, the better I’ll be.”
With all the upheaval that has happened in the last few days, this was a “let’s tough it out and get outta here” kind of match-up, and the Hurricanes managed to do that without being embarrassed too badly. However, they lost another invaluable two points in the Southeast race and gave up their fourth of five, not to their mention fourth straight at home.
Petr Sykora scored on what was essentially a four-minute power play after Niclas Wallin took a penalty the second a Tuomo Ruutu minor expired. The Pittsburgh fans in the building – and there were a lot of them – roared when Sykora caught Michael Leighton sliding across the crease and fired one a laser of a shot top shelf. I know, it’s getting repetitive, but this was the eleventh time in a row that the Hurricanes have given up the first goal.
The Hurricanes made the worst defensive gaff a team could possibly make less than minutes later when Wallin coughed up the puck to Sidney Crosby right in front of the net. Crosby tapped it to Pascal Dupuis, who scored an almost laughably easy goal.
“We ran some high-risk things that went in the opposite direction for us, and we didn’t give our goaltender a whole lot of help,” Maurice said. (Weird to read it? Even weirder to type it!)
Sykora struck again to put the ‘Canes down 3-0 after Ruutu took a penalty 33 seconds into the second period. The puck trickled behind an oblivious Leighton and Sykora was standing there, ready to put it in. Crosby collected the primary assists on all three of Pittsburgh’s early goals.
Ruutu must have been feeling rotten about having a hand (or a high stick) in two goals against, and he more than made up for it 19 seconds later when he roared, shaking off two defenders, and buried a heads-up Sergei Samsonov pass.
Pittsburgh’s next highlight-reel goal occurred almost horrifyingly slow motion, as three Penguins slipped behind the Carolina defense and nodded wordlessly at each other, trying to decide how to best make the Hurricanes pay. Leighton was left helpless and far out of position, and Miroslav Satan (why, oh why isn’t this man playing for the New Jersey Devils?) bounced the puck off a ‘Canes player and in.
Well, at least one Staal scored on the Penguins tonight. Matt Cullen’s shot from the point deflected off Jordan Staal, the middle of Eric’s three younger brothers, and found the net, making the score 4-2.
It looked as though the Hurricanes might escape the second period only down by two, but another ugly giveaway – an errant pass bounced off the back of Matt Cullen’s skate and right to Evgeni Malkin – former Lightning star Ruslan Fedotenko scored after Leighton initially made the save, but dropped the puck in the goalmouth.
Danny Sabourin made some unbelievable saves, even when it didn’t matter, to keep the Penguins’ lead at three goals. He stonewalled Eric Staal after some incredible, one-on-one shifty puck work, somehow managing to trap the puck underneath him before it found its way into the net. He also slid over just in time to stop Joni Pitkanen’s shot off a 2-on-1 with ten minutes remaining in the third.
The Hurricanes are at home all this weekend, which isn’t much of a comfort given their recent record in the RBC Center. They’ll take on Philadelphia on Saturday and Washington on Sunday – a win in either of those games would be, again, not expected…but very very promising.
“He didn’t change a lot yet; it’s hard to put in a new system in one day,” Matt Cullen said. “We just went out and played, we’ll see how it goes going forward.”