It was a pretty glum scene Thursday at PNC Arena as the Carolina Hurricanes’ game came to an end.
Much of the crowd, which was slim, had departed. The Canes slowly skated off the ice, beaten again.
Just a few weeks ago, the Canes were winning their fourth straight game on home ice, climbing up the Eastern Conference standings, closing in on playoff position. After a 3-0 loss Thursday to the Los Angeles Kings, the Canes will go into the NHL All-Star break reeling, having dropped five straight, having fallen back in the standings.
“Whenever you’re on a losing streak like this you become a little fragile,” Canes defenseman Justin Faulk said. “It’s been a tough stretch and hopefully we can regroup and come back and be good to go. Have some fun and make a push here at the end.”
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It was a grinding, at times boring game Thursday, with more hits than shots much of the night. Goalies Peter Budaj of the Kings and Cam Ward of the Canes matched each other’s saves, some high-quality, as the game wore on.
But someone had to win it, and the Kings did. Marian Gaborik scored with 4:43 left in regulation, off a Drew Doughty pass from the right wing. Trevor Lewis banged in a rebound 38 seconds later. Kyle Clifford finished it off with an empty-netter.
It was the fifth shutout of the season for Budaj, who had 22 saves.
“We’re obviously frustrated with our game as of late,” Canes center Jordan Staal said. “But there’s no better time than now to hit the re-set button and come back ready to work.”
That work will begin Monday at 2 p.m., when practice resumes at PNC Arena. On Tuesday, the Canes will host the Philadelphia Flyers, trying to begin the second part of the season anew.
While most players will take time to rest — though it may not be a restful time, given the losing streak — Faulk won’t. He will be in Los Angeles for the All-Star Weekend as Carolina’s All-Star representative, though he goes to L.A. off a minus-3 game.
By game’s end, the Canes (21-20-7) looked back at missed chances. Sebastian Aho had some good looks, once firing a shot that glanced off Budaj’s stick, then the crossbar. The Canes also had a pair of power plays in each of the second and third periods but came up empty-handed, getting off five shots.
Asked what went wrong with the power play, Faulk said, “I don’t know. If we knew we wouldn’t be 3-for-50 or whatever we are. We’ve had (power-play) goals the past couple of games but we’ve had opportunities to tie games, to get leads, even get momentum, and it’s been a little ugly.”
The Canes’ Jeff Skinner, who has a team-high 17 goals and 170 shots, was held without a shot for the first time this season. Carolina had not been shut out since Jan. 17, 2016, when the Canes lost in Pittsburgh 5-0.
The Kings (24-21-4) lead the NHL in fewest shots allowed per game and clogged the defensive zone well, blocking shots, getting sticks on sticks.
“They did a good job competing in the D-zone,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “I thought both teams did. Nothing was for free — a lot of contested shot attempts, a lot of pucks getting deflected, not being able to get to the net.”
Carolina, in its five-game skid, has been outscored 23-5, losing 7-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and 6-1 to the Washington Capitals.
“It doesn’t matter how many scoring chances you have if you don’t score,” Aho said. “We just couldn’t get the puck in the net.”
The Canes’ position in the Eastern Conference is more precarious after a fifth straight regulation loss. As Peters put it, “It’s a bad taste.”
The Flyers, who hold the second wild-card playoff spot, beat Toronto on Thursday. The Flyers have 56 points, seven ahead of the Canes.
All Peters can do is look to next week, saying, “It’ll be like starting over.”
The Canes, as Staal said, will hit the re-set button. But there’s a lot of ground to cover.