Canes' power loss baffles

Staff writerMarch 15, 2011 

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The Canes' Joni Pitkanen (25), Cory Stillman and Eric Staal congratulate Joe Corvo (77) after he scored during the first period of an NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the RBC Center in Raleigh on Feb. 25, 2011.

CHRIS SEWARD — CHRIS SEWARD - cseward@newsobserver.com

Joe Corvo didn't wait for the question to end Monday. Hearing the phrase "power play," the Carolina Hurricanes defenseman quickly replied, "Terrible."

That's word association for you. Pretty apt description, too.

The Hurricanes, who face the Buffalo Sabres tonight at HSBC Arena, were 0-for-9 on the power play in their last game, a 3-2 loss Saturday to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They haven't scored a power-play goal in their past five games - going 0-for-21 - and are 3-for-61 in their past 15.

Nearly everyone agrees the power play is broken. Why?

"I don't know. It's a mystery," Corvo said.

The question now: how to fix it, and quickly.

Forward Cory Stillman said better execution would breed better confidence. Corvo said there should be less hesitation. He also said the booing recently heard at the RBC Center isn't helping.

"The coaches are telling us to stick with it and stay positive," Corvo said. "But it is frustrating."

The Hurricanes (31-28-10) are four points out of playoff position in the NHL's Eastern Conference. They've lost four straight since a 3-2 overtime win March 3 over the Sabres. With just 13 games remaining in the regular season, time is running out.

Often, a power-play goal can be the difference, especially in these tight, intense games between teams battling to reach the playoffs. For the Canes, who are not an explosive offensive team, they're desperately needed.

"Power plays go through cycles," Stillman said. "It's a matter of sticking with the system, sticking with the program.

"Once you get one [goal], it's going to open. And as soon as you do that, you have the confidence and you'll probably see us score two or three in a game. It can turn very quickly."

In the 19 games before the late-January All-Star Game break, the Hurricanes were 17-for-79 on the power play (21.5 percent), scoring four times in a 6-4 win Jan. 15 over the Tampa Bay Lightning. In the 19 games since the break, they're 7-for-77 (9 percent).

"I think when it gets tough to score, you hold on to [the puck] too long and try to do too much," Corvo said. "You try to tap the puck into the net when you should just blast away every time you get it."

Penalty killers also have been playing the Hurricanes differently, Corvo said. It's like a predator going after a wounded animal.

"It's like they're saying, 'They're struggling, let's get on them and make them lose their confidence early,' " Stillman said.

Teams are attacking the Canes as they approach the blue line and attempt to set up in the offensive zone, often forcing them to dump the puck in. They're attacking the points - Corvo, Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, Jay Harrison - and blocking shots.

"Every team is pressuring," Corvo said. "Before, you'd play a mix of teams that played zone and were not too aggressive. Now every team is being aggressive. Every team is pressuring us, sending two guys up and trying to score."

In the loss to the Blue Jackets, the Canes had a 5-on-3 advantage three times, for more than a total of two minutes. They had the nine power plays. Yet the only special-teams score in the game was a shorthanded goal by the Blue Jackets in the first period for a 1-0 lead.

"We had a lot of zone time and so many good opportunities," Pitkanen added. "When you go four or five [games] and not score, you get frustrated. We have to keep working for our chances and believe they will go in."

The Canes spent a big part of Monday's practice working on the power play. There were three units - the third one with forwards Drayson Bowman, Brandon Sutter and Chad LaRose. The first group had Eric Staal with Stillman and Tuomo Ruutu, and then Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Skinner and Erik Cole.

Canes coach Paul Maurice said he has used 13 different combinations in the past two to three weeks, looking for an answer.

"The people we have are capable of doing it," Maurice said. "I don't think we're at a point right now where we're going to be snapping it around, a six-pass goal. I think it's going to have to be simple, pretty direct, pretty deliberate. And then we've got to finish around the net.

"I think one gets in, then the pressure comes off and I think the hands get a little loose around the net."

McBain out 3-4 weeks: Hurricanes defenseman Jamie McBain will be sidelined three to four weeks with a shoulder injury, Maurice said Monday. McBain, 23, was injured Friday in the game against the Washington Capitals. The rookie has five goals and 20 assists in 68 games this season.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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