Games played just after the NHL’s Christmas break often are unpredictable, quirky affairs.
In the Carolina Hurricanes’ 3-1 road loss Thursday to the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena, rookie forward Andrei Svechnikov was leaving the penalty box, only to be penalized again before getting out the door. How often does that happen?
That the Capitals beat the Canes wasn’t surprising. The defending Stanley Cup champions are hitting their stride and now have won three straight games and 15 of their last 18.
That the Canes’ power play was ineffective -- and may have cost them the game -- wasn’t totally surprising, either. The Canes were 0-14 on the power play in the four games before Thursday and were 0-4 against the Caps, generating three shots. That’s a lot of futility.
“That’s definitely been our Achilles heel all year,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We don’t have the killer instinct we need out there on the power play and that’s what was evident out there.”
Sebastian Aho scored the Canes’ goal, his 15th of the season. It came in the third period and made it a 2-1 game and Aho said it came off a “lucky bounce.”
And about the power play ...
Asked what was missing, Aho said: “Work.”
Asked again, he said, “Work, that was missing. We didn’t work hard enough.”
The Caps did on special teams. They took a 2-0 lead when T.J. Oshie went into the slot, held his ground and redirected a shot by defenseman John Carlson past goalie Petr Mrazek.
Mrazek had 30 saves and played well enough in net to win on most nights. The Caps’ first goal came when Cnaes rookie Janne Kuokkanen, at the end of a shift, made a weak pass to defenseman Calvin de Haan that resulted in a turnover in the Canes’ zone and soon had the puck in the net as Chandler Stephenson ripped a shot past Mrazek.
Carlson had an empty-net goal in the final minute of regulation after Mrazek was pulled for an extra attacker.
Aho scored late and the Canes kept the pressure on goalie Braden Holtby. But a late power play fizzled and the Canes, coming off an exciting 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins on “Whalers Night” at PNC Arena, came away empty-handed in dropping to 15-16-5.
“We weren’t ready to go like we needed to be and that’s on me,” Brind’Amour said. “Against that team, with where we are in the standings, really disappointing.”
It was an unusual day. The Canes, after the three-day break, held their morning skate at PNC Arena, then flew to Washington.
Neither team was sharp in a scoreless first period and the Canes had three power plays in the second, spending most of their power-play time trying, and generally unsuccessfully, to get the puck into the offensive zone.
“Our entries were terrible,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s been bad all year. It’s frustrating. We work on it a lot.
“But our best players need to be our best players and they just let off the gas. It’s inexcusable but that’s the difference in the game.”
Svechnikov was called for a goaltender interference penalty at 4:16 of the second period. After serving the penalty, he was about to step on the ice but stuck out his stick to play the puck in front of him, resulting in another interference penalty. He did an about-face and sat down.
The Canes killed off both Svechnikov penalties but not Brett Pesce’s hooking penalty ay 17:18. Oshie scored at 18:16.
Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen was injured and helped off the ice after being hit by the Canes’ Clark Bishop and Justin Williams.