Overtime a trying time for Canes

calexander@newsobserver.comDecember 28, 2013 

Hurricanes Lightning Hockey

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas (7), of the Czech Republic, celebrates with center Nate Thompson (44) after Gudas scored an overtime goal past Carolina Hurricanes goalie Justin Peters (35) during an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning won the game 3-2.


— Overtime has not been kind to the Carolina Hurricanes this season.

The Canes have had seven games decided in overtime. Six have been losses after the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 overtime win Friday at PNC Arena.

Add in another three losses in shootouts and that’s nine available points the Canes have not been able to secure. In a tightly bunched Metropolitan Division, they could be points badly needed come April for a franchise that has not been in the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2009.

Canes coach Kirk Muller likens shootouts to a “crapshoot” and that’s probably a good analogy. But overtime is about skill and execution – and at times, a bit of luck. It’s four-on-four hockey, giving teams more open ice to make plays, push the pace and make something happen.

Canes captain Eric Staal said Saturday he has no ready explanation for the Canes’ overtime problems.

“It’s hard to say,” Staal said. “You can watch video and think about it all you want, but the bottom line is it’s four on four and both teams are in the same boat.

“We’ve just kind of found a way to lose and not pick up those points. It’s been frustrating but I don’t think there’s anything you can do a lot differently. It’s about execution when you have those chances to bury them.”

The Canes, who face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, have dropped seven of their past eight games and four have come in overtime. A week ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Radko Gudas knocked down Canes forward Jeff Skinner along the boards and then finished off an odd-man rush by scoring.

Against the Pens, Canes defenseman Andrej Sekera had the first two shots of overtime. The second hit goalie Marc-Andre Fleury near the collarbone, causing him to briefly double over in apparent pain.

But play continued and the Pens’ James Neal scored after a well-placed chip pass from Jussi Jokinen, a former Carolina forward who has tormented his old team since being traded to Pittsburgh last season.

The Canes’ only overtime win this season was exciting and memorable. Manny Malhotra had signed with Carolina and was playing the third game since his return to the NHL when the veteran center scored on a breakaway to beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 5 at PNC Arena.

But the rest have been miserable for the Canes, who also lost three of the four games decided in overtime in last year’s shortened season.

The Calgary Flames topped Carolina 2-1 on Dec. 13 when Chris Butler scored with 3.6 seconds left in overtime.

Against the Pens and Lightning, Muller opened the overtime periods with forwards Jordan Staal and Alex Semin, Sekera and defenseman Justin Faulk. He also has sent out Eric Staal with Skinner and defensemen Ron Hainsey and Ryan Murphy – the four on the ice when Neal scored Friday.

Muller isn’t sure he needs to tinker much with his combination of players. He doesn’t agree with the idea the Canes may have developed a mental block.

“Honestly, I don’t think there are things we need to change,” Muller said. “We’ve got to bury the chances when we get them.

“Last year was a whole different thing. We did not play well four on four. We didn’t give ourselves opportunities. We’ve just got to stay with it. Hopefully we capitalize at the right time.”

The Canes (14-15-9) were seventh in the Metro Division after Friday’s games but just one point out of third place and playoff position.

“Everyone is squeezing for points every night,” Muller said. “It’s tighter than it has ever been.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip

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