The Carolina Hurricanes learned Friday afternoon that center Jordan Staal would not be in the lineup against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Hurricanes said Staal would miss the game for personal and family reasons. Without Staal, the Canes couldn’t slow down the streaking Penguins, losing 6-1 at PNC Arena to extend their winless streak to four games.
In truth, even with Staal the Canes might have struggled against the Pens (36-23-4), who have won six straight and are 7-0-1 in their last eight games. With each passing week, the Pens are looking very much like a team that could win a third straight Stanley Cup, with scoring balance throughout the lines, an active defense and goalie Matt Murray looking sharp in net.
Phil Kessel had two goals and an assist, and Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin a goal and two assists apiece for the Pens. Sidney Crosby scored, as did defenseman Olli Maatta, and Murray did his part with 27 saves.
“They capitalized on our mistakes,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “We made enough mistakes and they make you pay. When you make mistakes against this team it ends up in the back of the net. And that’s what they did.”
Despite the loss, the Canes (27-24-10) remained one point out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference with the NHL trade deadline coming up Monday. Carolina plays at Detroit on Saturday and Peters said he did not think Staal would make the trip.
The game, played before a lively crowd of 18,182 at PNC Arena, was all but decided after the first 30 minutes. The Pens led 4-1 as the Riley Sheahan line with Kessel and Guentzel on the wings dominated most of their shifts.
When the score reached 6-1 in the third, Canes goalie Cam Ward smashed his paddle against the cage, then gave the handle a fling in disgust, earning a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
“It was a little too easy to access our net at times,” Peters said.
Guentzel scored his 20th of the season in the first, going backdoor to beat goalie Cam Ward with an easy tap-in. Maatta then made it 2-0 after a faceoff win by the Pens in the Carolina zone, spurring the Canes’ best moments of the night.
With Staal out, Elias Lindholm centered the line with Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho and the line produced a goal as Teravainen scored his 15th in the second.
The Canes followed up the score by keeping the Pens pinned down in the Pittsburgh zone, making a change as Malkin and wingers Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist were on the ice for almost three minutes.
The Canes’ Brock McGinn and Lee Stempniak each had quality scoring chances in the offensive flurry but couldn’t finish.
The Pens have finishers and few better than Kessel. The veteran forward scored on a shot from the left circle off a Guentzel pass, then crashed the net to beat Ward and has 26 goals this season.
During the game, the Pens wrapped up a three-team trade with Ottawa and Vegas, with Pittsburgh’s key acquisition center Derick Brassard from the Senators. Brassard could fill the Pens’ need for a third-line center although the Sheahan line was impressive Friday.
Staal often has been matched against Malkin’s line this season as the Canes won twice.