The Carolina Hurricanes finally found a way to score a power-play goal Saturday.
The Canes got bodies around the net, Elias Lindholm batted the puck out of the air like a baseball coach hitting an infield grounder, Sebastian Aho was in the right spot to receive it and Aho buried a shot past Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
It was the Canes’ first power-play score in eight games. Unfortunately for Carolina, the Canes had five other power-play chances in Saturday’s game — three in the third period — and came away empty in a 3-2 loss at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
With 3:44 left in regulation, the Blue Jackets’ Sam Gagner was called for holding Brock McGinn. The Canes pulled goalie Michael Leighton, who drew the start Saturday, for an extra attacker during the power play, but the Blue Jackets were able to stave it off.
Despite three straight losses this past week, two at Columbus, the Canes (21-18-7) were two points out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference after Saturday’s games. They’ll be in Washington on Monday to face the Capitals (31-9-6), who extended their point streak to 13 games Saturday with a 4-3 win over Dallas.
While the Canes’ penalty killing has been a strength, the power play has become a drag. Carolina was 0-for-15 in the seven games before Saturday and now is 2-for-42 in the 16 games since Dec. 16, dipping to 23rd in the NHL at 16.5 percent.
“Having a strong power play is huge,” Lindholm said. “Pretty much every game is a one-goal game. As it is now, we don’t create enough. We need to at least get some momentum off the power play, but in a lot of games we haven’t even gotten that.”
Lindholm, used both on the power play and as a penalty killer, said the P.K. units take pride in being No. 1 in the league and play with confidence and aggressiveness.
“Right now we’re happy when we get a power play and not taking enough pride in it,” Lindholm said. “We have to work hard when we’re out there. We want to do good, but it comes down to work first. We also have to get back to shooting more pucks, too. It’s tough. It’s not clicking right now.”
Lindholm’s comments came Friday before the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Canes then were 0-for-3 on the power play, but it didn’t matter as the Pens rolled 7-1. On Saturday, it did matter at Columbus, and the Canes did score to end the power-play drought but managed five shots total on six power plays.
The Canes had a good start to the season, getting power-play goals in five of their first seven games. The Canes had added Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, two skilled forwards, to the mix this season along with Bryan Bickell, who could be a 6-foot-4, 225-pound screen in front of goalies.
Bickell, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, has been sidelined since November. Teravainen has three power-play goals but has been inconsistent and was a healthy scratch Saturday.
“There’s a fine line with power plays,” Canes forward Lee Stempniak said. “There can be really successful stretches, where you have more shots and more cleaner (zone) entries. We’re pretty good on faceoffs and getting to loose pucks, but we need to find a way to break through more.
“We need to execute better. We’ll have an entry that works, then bobble a pass, or our timing will be off. That makes it hard.”
Canes coach Bill Peters has mentioned lagging confidence on the power play and players “squeezing the stick” too hard. He also has tried some new combinations and looks on the power-play units.
“We need to get it going the other way,” Peters said. “It needs to be a positive factor in the second half (of the season).”
Aho’s goal in the second period Saturday came after Jordan Staal clawed the puck away during a board battle and got it to defenseman Jaccob Slavin for a shot. Lindholm, positioned to the side of the net with Staal in front, swatted the puck across to Aho for the score.
“When we’re in sync, I think we’re dangerous,” Stempniak said.
CAROLINA HURRICANES AT WASHINGTON CAPITALS
When: 7 p.m., Monday
Where: Verizon Center, Washington