Jordan Staal sat at his locker Friday night, silently seething, his eyes set and his frustration apparent.
The Carolina Hurricanes had just been hammered 7-1 by the Pittsburgh Penguins at PNC Arena, where the Canes have had so much success, so many good times, this season.
“You can call that an embarrassment,” Staal said. “It was a team that made us look like a high school team.”
To Staal’s left, a few seats down, was Jeff Skinner. If the game was an embarrassment for the Canes, and it was, it also was embarrassing for Skinner, the team’s offensive leader and usually its emotional leader.
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Skinner was called for two undisciplined penalties in the second period — an embellishment penalty, then unsportsmanlike conduct. Canes coach Bill Peters benched Skinner in the third along with center Teuvo Teravainen, who had made a few too many costly turnovers.
“Yeah, that’s embarrassing,” Skinner first said about the game. “It’s pretty much the only word, really.”
Asked about the penalties, Skinner said he lost an edge on the first. On the second, he said he didn’t think he “said enough” to warrant an unsportsmanlike penalty.
“That hurt the team because they scored on the power play,” Skinner said.
Yes, the Pens did that, too. The Canes lead the NHL in penalty killing but Phil Kessel drilled a shot past goalie Cam Ward off an Evgeni Malkin pass.
Skinner called the benching “tough” but didn’t argue with it, saying, “You don’t want to hurt the team. It’s tough sitting, watching, especially when guys are out there battling.”
Ward, in his 21st consecutive start, did battle, but Skinner said the Canes “left him out to dry” too much. In the third, after Malkin scored for a 6-0 lead, Ward had had enough, taking a swing at the Pens’ Patric Hornqvist, who had fallen near the crease.
A lone highlight for the Canes (21-17-7) was a shorthanded goal by Viktor Stalberg in the third, Carolina’s sixth of the season.
The Canes had won 14 of the past 16 games at home, going 14-1-1. That was impressive and Pens coach Mike Sullivan said after Friday’s morning skate that he expected a “hard game.”
The Canes, with owner Peter Karmanos Jr. in the house, had some early jam but it was anything but a hard game for the Pens (29-11-5), who led 1-0 after the first period and then poured in four goals in the second period in handing the Canes their worst loss of the season.
“I didn’t think we managed the puck very well,” Peters said. “Turned it over too much and their transition game was good.”
And not just that. The Penguins (29-11-5) were hungrier around the net. They skated better, passed better, were better defensively. Their goalie, Matt Murray, was better.
Conor Sheary scored twice. Kessel had a goal and assist, as did Malkin, and Carl Hagelin scored. It was such a team effort for Pittsburgh that not much was needed from Sidney Crosby, who had one assist.
The Canes were outshot 41-28, had 17 shots blocked and another 17 attempts miss the net. And the power play continued to be a liability for Carolina, now 1-for-36 over the past 15 games.
The Canes, beaten 4-1 at Columbus on Tuesday, go back to Nationwide Arena on Saturday to again face the Blue Jackets. A lot of the players will have their fathers along on the annual “Dads Trip” and there could be some fatherly advice offered after Friday’s debacle.
Peters said backup goalie Michael Leighton might start but said no firm decision has been made.
“We’ve got to get back to the way we play,” Skinner said. “Play fast. Making strong plays and playing together.”
And keeping their composure when things go wrong. The Canes will need to get back to that, too.