The Carolina Hurricanes had so many offensive chances Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins it was tough keeping up with them all.
The Canes had a season-high 46 shots, 19 in the final period. They scored the first goal of the game and took a lead into the third period.
Not that the Canes won. The Penguins sniped three shots in the game -- bing, bing, bing -- and came away with a 3-2 victory at PPG Paints Arena.
The Pens’ Sidney Crosby, who scored Pittsburgh’s first goal and his 26th of the season, had good things to say about the Canes.
“I think they’ve always had some good team speed and I think they move the puck very well,” Crosby said after the game. “All their D are pretty mobile and able to move the puck, able to carry the puck. They work well as a five-man unit out there and you saw that tonight.”
The Pens were playing with a depleted D corps, missing Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin. But the skill guys came through, as did goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who had to take over for injured Matt Murray in the third period.
The Canes, playing without injured defenseman Justin Faulk, survived a big scare when Jordan Staal took a skate in the face from the Pens’ Carl Hagelin after a faceoff. Staal needed stitches but was able to return to the game.
Crosby’s goal, 26 seconds into the second period, tied the score 1-1. Carolina’s Lee Stempniak scored in the second, but the Pens’ Chris Kunitz tied it 2-2 early in the third with a shot from the slot.
The winning goal came when Patric Hornqvist first went down to block a shot by Noah Hanifin, then ended up leading a rush. Skating around Canes defenseman Matt Tennyson inside the Carolina blue line, Hornqvist set up Hagelin for a one-timer and go-ahead score with 4:15 left in regulation.
The Pens played Tuesday in New Jersey, beating the Devils 5-2, and may have had to fight through some fatigue issues of the back-to-back.
“We didn’t seem to have a whole lot of juice as a team, so it’s trying to find ways to win,” Pens coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s scratching, clawing, competing on pucks. It’s getting in shot lanes and trying to be hard to play against. It’s one-on-one puck battles. It’s playing in the trenches.
“That’s what we said to them after the second period — good teams find ways. We may not have our A game but we better have our A commitment and our A effort, and I thought our players did have that.”
For the Canes, the loss was like others this season on the road -- Carolina now has a 5-9-6 road record -- when a mistake here or a defensive breakdown there turn into big problems and goals against.
Canes coach Bill Peters said his team, off since Dec. 23, was “rested and rusty — rusty in execution.” Asked what changed in the third period, Peters succinctly said, “They scored, we didn’t.”
The Canes had 90 total shot attempts — 29 shots were blocked and another 15 attempts missed the net. Sebastian Aho had seven shots on net, a season high for the rookie forward, and Elias Lindholm, who scored the first goal of the game, had six shots blocked.
Aho nearly batted in a puck, hitting the post and then having the puck drop behind Murray but between his legs. Jeff Skinner found metal. Late in the second a Ron Hainsey snapshot caused Murray to kick out his right leg to make the save at the post, sustaining the injury that brought in Fleury, who was 19-for-19 in the third.
All in all, a lot of offensive futility.
What next for the Canes? The Chicago Blackhawks, the best team in the Western Conference, come into PNC Arena on Friday. Then it’s back on the road for the Canes, who have a New Year’s Eve game with the Tampa Bay Lightning.