For the Carolina Hurricanes, the last game before their NHL bye week couldn’t have turned out any worse.
The Canes lost to the Calgary Flames 4-1 on Sunday at PNC Arena, taking a two-game losing streak into the mandated five-day break.
The Canes lost forward Sebastian Aho, their leading scorer this season, to a borderline dangerous hit by the Flames’ Mark Giordano.
Two days after a deflating loss to the Washington Capitals, the Canes were slow starters and never fully recovered. Losing Aho in the first minute of the third period was another blow, taking perhaps the team’s most dynamic player out of the game.
Aho was hit both in the head and on a knee by Giordano in the Calgary zone and needed to be helped off the ice, favoring his left leg. Giordano, who put a shoulder into Aho’s head, was given a match penalty and could warrant an NHL suspension.
Canes coach Bill Peters did not have an update on Aho’s condition after the game but said Aho’s knee also was being evaluated.
Of Giordano’s hit, Peters said, “Obviously, there’s some head contact. I don’t know there was much intent, to be honest with you. I thought (Giordano’s) arm was tucked in low. But it ended up catching him in the head, so unfortunate.”
The Flames (25-16-4), playing without injured center Sean Monahan, led 2-0 after a strong first period as Matt Stajan and Dougie Hamilton scored. Hamilton added a second goal in the third – after the Canes’ Brock McGinn found the metal with an attempt, a near-miss – and Matthew Tkachuk followed with a power-play goal for a 4-0 lead.
Lee Stempniak, in his second game of the season, had a power-play goal in the third for the Canes (20-17-8). But that was the only goal allowed by Flames goalie Mike Smith, who won his sixth straight game.
“I didn’t think we were engaged in the game, period,” Peters said. “I didn’t think we skated. I didn’t think we had much emotional engagement to the game. .. I thought we were lethargic. We were slow. Slow with the puck, slow making decisions.”
For much of the first period, the Canes looked like a team still trying to recover from the disappointing finish against the Caps, when they lost a late lead and the game. Several players also have been slowed by flu-like symptoms, causing Peters to cancel Saturday’s planned practice.
The Canes were a half-step slow, often beaten to pucks, not making plays. The Flames, winning their seventh straight game, controlled the flow, the pace of the game and was the more physical team.
The Flames’ first goal came after some nifty skating from Curtis Lazar, who zig-zagged his way into the Carolina zone with the puck before Stajan finished off the the play with the score.
The second goal was as much about Johnny Gaudreau as Hamilton. After Aho was knocked down near the Canes’ bench in the neutral zone, Gaudreau collected the puck and made a quick move into the zone, finding Hamilton open for the shot.
Carolina had back-to-back power plays in the second but couldn’t convert against the Flames’ active penalty killers or Smith, who turned everything away.
Smith was involved in one of the game’s most unusual plays. In the first, he left the net to beat Jordan Staal to the puck, only to have Staal knocked down under him and then fall on the Canes center, who appeared dazed.
The Aho injury quickly quieted the crowd of 15,218. Giordano stepped into the winger, who was down on the ice for a few minutes, as Justin Williams dropped the gloves and went after Giordano.