There were any number of plays Saturday that summed up the Carolina Hurricanes’ scoring frustrations and offensive consternation this season.
In a 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Canes had:
-- Warren Foegele twice stopped on first-period breakaways by Pens goalie Matt Murray, who had 39 saves in his second shutout of the season.
-- Victor Rask looking at a mostly open net on a power play only to have the puck hop over his stick.
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-- Jordan Martinook with an open shot in the slot, only to miss the net wide right.
Then there was Dougie Hamilton. The Canes defenseman winged a first-period shot from the point. The referee signaled a goal. The goal horn came on. Canes fans cheered.
Not for long. The puck smacked the crossbar, then hit the post but never crossed the goal line. No goal.
The Pens (18-12-6), in contrast, were taking care of business. And especially center Sidney Crosby, who is very good at his hockey business.
Crosby had three assists, twice setting up Jake Guentzel for goals after first spotting Kris Letting open for a quick shot and score.
“They’re a good team and they’re going to get their chances,” Martinook said. “They’ve got three lines that can score and arguably the best player in the world who makes plays kind of when you don’t think he’s going to make them.
“It’s a game of inches. We’re an inch away on a couple of them and then we’re chasing the game a little bit.”
The Canes’ slide continued. Carolina (14-15-5) has lost five of the last six, with a game against Boston on Sunday.
It will be “Whalers Night” at PNC Arena as the Canes put on Hartford Whalers throwback jerseys. Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour will care more about putting together 60 solid minutes, or more if need be, and getting a win in the last game of a five-game homestand before the Christmas break.
The Canes could be without Jordan Staal. The center, who recently missed five games recovering from a concussion, left after the second period with an upper-body injury.
Brind’Amour said Staal “got another hit to the head” in the first period but did not know the extent of the injury. Staal delivered a hit to Pens defenseman Brian Dumoulin along the boards early in the game, and later in the period had a collision with Canes forward Andrei Svechnikov and Guentzel in front of the Pens net.
After the game, the Canes recalled center Clark Bishop and winger Janne Kuokkanen from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL.
On the Letang goal, Crosby carried the puck behind the Canes net before putting it on Letang’s stick for a 1-0 lead.
In the second period, more of the same. Crosby with the heavy lifting behind the net and perfect setup pass, Guentzel with the finish.
“They get the second one and you can kind of see our group not deflate, but everybody starts gripping it a little tighter,” Martinook said. “Our margin is so small right now that you’re down by two and right now you feel like you’re down by four. “
Crosby and Guenztel clicked again with 51 seconds left in the second, Crosby with a lead pass off the right wing. Guentzel had his 14th and 15th goals of the season, the Pens had a 3-0 lead.
“When you get Grade-A chances like that you’ve got to make sure to convert on it,” Crosby said.
Canes goalie Curtis McElhinney, in his first start since Dec. 5, made some nice stops against Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, finishing with 29 saves. But the Pens were too precise when Crosby had the puck on his stick, breaking down the Canes in the offensive zone and taking advantage of defensive mistakes and misplays.
“Our goalies have been fine. That’s not the issue,” Brind’Amour said. “if you don’t score everything gets magnified.”
A power-play goal would have helped Carolina. The Canes had three power plays in the first two periods. None of the first three resulted in a shot on net and the Pens easily killed off a fourth penalty in the third period.
After the 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, Canes captain Justin Williams questioned the team’s mental toughness. There was a closed-door meeting and some serious talk.
Brind’Amour switched up the lines. Micheal Ferland went back on Sebastian Aho’s line with Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrei Svechnikov, with four goals in his past four games, played on Staal’s line with Martinook.
“Great start for us,” Brind’Amour said. “We were engaged. Unfortunately it was just like the other night. We deserved a little better in the first just based on the chances, but it didn’t happen.
“To me, the power play was terrible. That’s our best players and that’s the time they need to make plays. And zero.”
Murray, who has had his injury issues, stymied the Canes again, improving his career record against Carolina to 7-2-0. He’s 3-0 overall since returning from his lower-body injury.
“He’s an intelligent goaltender who reads the plays extremely well,” Pens coach Mike Sullivan said.
Murray did that Saturday. He got some help from the iron a few times -- on Hamilton’s shot, again in the third against Brock McGinn -- but earned the shutout.