Rod Brind’Amour says there are times NHL players feel like they’re out on the ice with a “pink piano” on their backs.
The Carolina Hurricanes coach was referring to the first game after the Christmas break, when fatigue can be an issue after a few days off. But Brind’Amour could use the same phrase describing the players on the Canes’ power-play units. The weight-on-their-back imagery works.
The Canes’ power play has been pitiful in recent games and was awful again Saturday in a 2-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark. N.J., in which rookie goalie Mackenzie Blackwood earned his first NHL shutout.
The Canes (15-17-5) had five power plays and misfired on all five. One bobble led to the Devils’ goal as Pavel Zacha scored shorthanded, being denied on his first shot by goalie Curtis McElhinney but knocking in the rebound with 36 seconds left in the second period.
“It cost us the game again,” Brind’Amour said. “The more we practice it the worse we get. All we’ve done the last three weeks is practice it and it’s not getting any better. Guys need to look in the mirror a little bit, our better players, when they get these opportunities. Now it’s in their heads.
“Our 5 on 5 has been fine. We’re giving everything we can, in pretty much every game. It was the same tonight. We were in good shape and the power play cost us. “
Teuvo Teravainen got the puck past Blackwood with 1:58 left in regulation on a shot from the right circle, using Justin Williams as a screen. But Williams was just in the crease, nudging Blackwood, and the goal was disallowed because of incidental contact with the goalie -- a call Brind’Amour challenged but was upheld.
“He was in the crease but I thought the goalie actually backed off, so it wasn’t impeding him getting out,” Brind’Amour said.
Andy Greene sealed the victory with an empty-net goal in the final minute for the Devils (14-16-7), giving Blackwood his second NHL victory. Blackwood had 37 saves, facing two breakaways by Sebastian Aho and another, shorthanded, by Warren Foegele but coming away unscathed.
The Canes wasted a strong effort in net by McElhinney, who has played well against the Devils throughout his career.
The Canes’ power-play problems remain numerous: poor zone entries, indecisive puck movement, passes that go awry, shots that miss the net, not enough desperation around the net, not enough work.
After a Friday practice, Brind’Amour addressed the power-play situation by saying, “If you’re a painter, paint. If you’re a plumber, plumb. We’ve got to do what we do. We’ve got some high-end players who need to make plays.”
Good quote but it was followed by bad execution again Saturday.
Aho had one good backdoor look on the third-period power play but his shot was stopped by Blackwood. It was that kind of day for Aho, whose first breakaway would have given the Canes the lead and the second would have tied the score.
Things became so bad for the Canes on the power play that in the third period Brind’Amour sent out Clark Bishop, Brock McGinn, Janne Kuokanen, Brett Pesce and Trevor van Riemsdyk to start -- a grab bag.
“We threw out guys who don’t even play the power play and they actually did it right,” Brind’Amour said.
Both teams were missing key players, the Devils playing without Taylor Hall and the Canes again without Jordan Staal.
The Canes have a New Year’s Eve game at PNC Arena against the Philadelphia Flyers to close out 2018, a year in which there was new team ownership and a team makeover of sorts. The Canes, out of the playoffs since 2009, continue to drift further and further behind in the Eastern Conference standings.