Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said the New Jersey Devils came ready to play Thursday and that the Canes were hesitant.
Canes captain Eric Staal said the competitive edge wasn’t there.
Jordan Staal put it more bluntly, saying, “It was a night that we didn’t show up.”
Frustration? Anger? That was there for the Hurricanes after a 5-1 beating by the Devils in front of a crowd of 9,254 at PNC Arena.
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The Devils, getting two goals and an assist from Mike Cammalleri, were quicker to pucks, more aggressive and lot more efficient in the Metropolitan Division matchup. Backup goalie Keith Kincaid, getting a rare start while Cory Schneider had the night off, made the most of it, making 30 saves in picking up his second win of the season.
Brad Malone scored for the Canes, ripping a shot from the slot in the second period. Malone was feisty enough, dropping the gloves to fight New Jersey’s Jordin Tootoo late in the period.
Tootoo, another tough character, dropped Malone with a big left hand. But it wouldn’t be the only skirmish of what turned into a chippy game.
The Canes had taken umbrage to the Devils’ Eric Gelinas putting a crunching hit on Andrej Nestrasil along the boards in the second period. With the Canes unsure if a penalty would be called or whether to retaliate against Gelinas, New Jersey rushed down the ice and scored on Jacob Josefson’s first of the season.
In the third, down went Gelinas as Eric Staal put a shoulder into the defenseman’s chest, knocking him to the ice. Later, Staal did some bumping with Kinkaid in the crease – the goalie losing his helmet – and then tangled with Adam Henrique, who had one of the Devils’ three second-period goals.
Justin Faulk, an alternate captain for the Canes, also dropped the gloves for some fisticuffs with Stefan Matteau in the third.
“Yeah, well, there’s a lot bottled up,” Staal said. “Just a lot mentally you go through every day and it’s been tough sledding right now and we’ve got to find a way to pick ourselves up because we’re obviously down.”
The loss was the third straight for the Canes (8-13-4), who are slipping further behind in the division and Eastern Conference. The Devils, under first-year coach John Hynes, are 13-10-2 and had some added emotional support Thursday as several of the players’ fathers were on the first “Dads Trip” in franchise history.
Cammalleri’s first goal, off the rush, was the only score in the first period. The Devils then took advantage of a double-minor high-sticking call against the Canes’ Jeff Skinner in the second as Henrique scored on the power play and Stephen Gionta just after the second minor expired for a 3-0 lead.
“Give them credit, they were quick,” Jordan Staal said of the Devils. “But I think for the most part we were flat for more or less the whole match.”
The Canes gave their backup goalie, Eddie Lack, the start Thursday but gave him little support.
“From the first period they were in our zone and ready to play,” Lack said. “I think we woke up there in the third, but it was obviously too late.”
Peters said only a handful of his players competed at a high level. Malone was one, he said. A few others.
“We’ve got to be better as group,” Peters said. “We let each other down as a group.”