Canes stumble before Christmas break

Posted by Chip Alexander on December 22, 2013 

The Canes talked a lot this past week about the need for a strong push in their final three games before the Christmas break.

"Collectively we're playing pretty good and these are three big games coming up," defenseman Tim Gleason said before Friday's game against the Washington Capitals.

The Canes then lost to the Caps 4-2 at PNC Arena. On Saturday, they followed with a 3-2 overtime loss on the road to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That leaves Monday's home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets as the final chance to salvage a win out of the three before Christmas. At 14-14-8, the Canes are fifth in the Metro Division, albeit just one point out of playoff position.

The Canes appeared a bit dead-legged Saturday at Tampa. Had it not been for a tremendous game in net by Justin Peters -- arguably his best -- they likely would not have gotten a point out of it.

Jiri Tlusty scored twice, picking up the second shorthanded for a 2-1 lead. But Peters, named the game's first star, was forced to stop 47 shots as the Lightning camped out in the offensive zone much of the game.

"Our goalie stole a point for us," Canes coach Kirk Muller said after the game. "He was the difference for us. We had a tired group. Hey, what can you say, Justin had a great game."

The Canes put a lot into Friday's home game against the Caps and looked sharp. They made good first passes in the defensive zone, stayed in attack mode and had 41 shots on goal.

But other than Tlusty, Riley Nash and Pat Dwyer on the third line, few of the forwards were very effective or much a threat Saturday. Jordan Staal's tripping call in the third period, an offensive-zone penalty, led to the Lightning tying the score 2-2 on the ensuing power play as Martin St. Louis got the goal.

It didn't help that defenseman Jay Harrison was lost to an injury in the first period. That loaded up minutes on the other D-men -- never a good thing in the second of a back-to-back.

"Overall we're happy to sneak out of here with a point," Muller said. "We deserved a point (Friday) night and didn't get it and tonight we did get it."

The goaltending conundrum apparently will continue. Peters is playing like a No. 1 goalie and Muller said he would determine starts based on performance. But Ward still is considered the "franchise goalie" and is paid like one -- $6.6 million this season.

As for Anton Khudobin, don't ask. It's still unclear when the Russian goalie will play another game or whether it will be with the Canes or in Charlotte for the Checkers (AHL.)

Peters got a good workout Saturday. As he put it, "It was hot in there and they were throwing a lot of rubber at the net."

But Peters' economy of movement, calmness in the crease and penchant for making high-quality saves gave the Canes a chance. Carolina led 1-0 in the first period and 2-1 in the second, only to have the Lightning twice tie it.

The Canes’ power play still needs work. The penalty killing has been sporadic, mixed with good and bad. Any game that goes into extra time, whether overtime or shootout, continues to be an adventure for the Canes.

The Canes are 1-5 in games decided in overtime. They're 1-3 in shootouts. Ten points available and the Canes have picked up two.

Muller believed the Canes were outplaying the Lightning in overtime. That is, up until defenseman Radko Gudas knocked down Jeff Skinner along the boards and began a two-on-one rush that ended with Gudas scoring for Tampa Bay.

"You've got to grab points where you can, any way you can," Peters said. "I'm disappointed we weren't able to get that second point tonight because you fight that hard the whole game, you battle and find a way to get to overtime, and unfortunately we weren't able to get the job done."

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