DENVER -- That the Carolina Hurricanes trailed the Colorado Avalanche 2-0 after the first period Friday didn't seem very surprising.
The Canes had scored just three first-period goals all season. The Avs had allowed just three. So why should that change?
It didn't. But the Hurricanes know it has to change, and quickly, or there likely will be more losses like the 4-2 setback to the Avs.
"You're not going to win hockey games on a consistent basis in this league if you don't have a good first period," Canes coach Kirk Muller said. "The old saying is catchup hockey usually is losing hockey."
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It was this night at the Pepsi Center. The Canes (4-4-3) never recovered against a fast, quick-attacking team that's now 9-1-0 under first-year coach Patrick Roy.
"It isn't easy to come back," Canes center Jordan Staal said. "We have to find a way to have a better start and play the way we did in the second and most of the third."
Drayson Bowman scored 12 seconds in the second, taking a pass from Jordan Staal and ripping a shot from the right circle to pull the Canes within 2-1. The Avs led 3-1 after two, then picked up an early power-play score from Matt Duchene in the third to make it a 4-1 game.
Andrej Sekera scored for the Canes, coming in on the back side to beat Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov and make it 4-2. The Canes also had chances on the power play, with Varlamov making a spectacular save on a point-blank Alexander Semin shot.
"It was a good power play," Staal said. "We moved the puck well and couldn't find a way to bury it. We have to find a way to play with that killer instinct and get our power play going."
To his credit, Staal never mentioned the Canes' injuries in his postgame interview. It was all about what the Canes need to do to get better after the back-to-back losses to Minnesota and then the Avs.
"It's two tough games we've got to learn from," he said. "There's still things in our game that aren’t good enough."
The fatigue of the two games wasn't a factor, or the mile-high altitude of Denver. The Canes (4-4-3) outshot the Avs 16-8 in the final period and 22-16 in the final two periods.
But again, a listless first was too much to overcome. The Canes were outshot 18-8 and managed to get out of the period down two goals only because of some hustling work in killing off a long 5-on-3 power play by the Avs.
"They came out real strong in the first," Canes goalie Justin Peters said. "For us to kill that 5-on-3 was huge and got some momentum for us."
Some defensive breakdowns and other mistakes hurt during the game. In the first, defenseman Ryan Murphy fell in the Canes zone and lost the puck, then was called for tripping. Duchene later was able to stuff in the puck from behind the net for his first goal as Canes center Riley Nash didn't react quickly or forcefully enough to help out Peters.
Alex Tanguay scored the third Avs goal on what basically was a two-on-two situation, getting good enough position on defenseman Justin Faulk to bang the puck past Peters after a centering pass from Duchene.
One positive for the Canes was that defenseman Tim Gleason was able to play for the first time this season after missing the first 10 games because of a concussion suffered in preseason. Gleason had 17:19 of ice time and had three hits in his 600th career game.
Forward Elias Lindholm also was able to return after missing the past five games with a shoulder injury. He had 12:26 of ice time, went 7-4 on face-offs and was plus-1 for the game.
Sekera had a goal and assist for the Canes. Tlusty earned his first assist of the season with his pass to Sekera on the backdoor play.
After four games on the road, the Canes head back to Raleigh to play seven of the next eight. First up Monday will be the Pittsburgh Penguins, who beat the Canes 5-2 in Pittsburgh early in the month.
Former Canes forward Jussi Jokinen had a hat trick for the Pens in that game. His first goal was a power-play goal in the first as the Pens led 1-0 after the opening period.
Muller was asked if he could spot or pinpoint a common thread in the slow first-period starts. The Canes have been outscored 10-3 and outshot 118-97 in the first.
The Canes have trailed 2-0 after the first in three of the past five games -- Chicago, Minnesota, Colorado -- and have not led after one since the second game of the season, against Philadelphia. They’ve been scoreless after 20 minutes eight times.
"Guys just have to find a way to prepare themselves to get ready to play," he said. "We pick up the tempo later on and get going … but it's tough when you give a lot of these teams the lead. It gives them a chance to sit back and play a smart game."