RALEIGH, N.C. — Just a few weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play was not simply productive.
It was prolific.
It generated at least one goal in each of their first 10 games in December, and was living up to the potential so many people believed it has.
But just as quickly as it found its rhythm, the power play lost it again.
It has been shut out in six of the past nine games, and while it actually scored the Penguins’ lone goal in their 2-1 loss to Carolina at PNC Arena Saturday night, it also was one of the primary reasons they lost for the second night in a row.
The Penguins got their goal when Hurricanes goalie Frederik Andersen tried to swipe the puck, one-handed, down the ice while his team was killing a tripping minor to Jordan Martinook during the third period.
The puck struck Penguins forward Rickard Rakell — who said he doesn’t know exactly where it hit him — and ended up in the net behind Andersen.
That was the only goal the Penguins managed in six tries with the extra man, including a 5-on-3 that lasted 94 seconds.
Sidney Crosby attributed the Penguins’ issues with the man-advantage in recent weeks to poor execution, although there might be more to it.
“Some of it is execution,” Mike Sullivan said. “Some of it is decision-making. … The solution to it is, we just have to simplify the game again and go back to establishing a shot and getting a net-front presence and trying to create offense off of that. That’s when our power play is at its best.”
Rakell offered a few specifics.
“It’s tough to really say what’s not working,” he said. “We have to do a better job right off faceoffs, winning faceoffs and on our (zone) entries, know our outs and help each other to set it up, because we know that when we set it up, we’re a dangerous power play. We just have to get to those positions where we know we can be dangerous.”
Despite squandering their extended 5-on-3 late in the second period, the Pittsburgh Penguins pushed hard in the third period, outshooting the Hurricanes, 14-7, during those 20 minutes.
“There are small margins of whether you’re scoring or not,” Rakell said. “We definitely had our chances tonight to get on top of this game.”
That they didn’t get more than one goal, he added, was not an issue of effort.
“I thought we played hard and we played pretty good,” he said. “Definitely, there’s something we can build on and try to get better.”
Casey DeSmith was pulled from his previous start after allowing Vancouver to score three goals on seven shots in what became a 5-4 Pittsburgh Penguins victory at PPG Paints Arena last Tuesday.
He bounced back nicely against the Hurricanes, making 34 saves and giving the Penguins a legitimate chance to leave town with a point or two.
Nonetheless, DeSmith said that losing the game trumped any satisfaction he might have felt over his own performance.
“It’s hard to be satisfied, not winning,” he said. “It’s a tough thing. I’d like to have the first one (back), but other than that, I thought I battled hard and played pretty well. But obviously, not getting wins is not going to leave me satisfied.”
Carolina is in first place in the Metropolitan Division and one of the better clubs in the NHL, but even with a number of regular missing because of injuries and illness, Sullivan felt his team competed with the Hurricanes on a pretty even basis for much of the evening.
“I thought we competed pretty hard,” he said. “We’re playing against a pretty good hockey team. I thought there were momentum swings on both sides. We know they’re a team that plays a pretty simple game. They play a north-south game.
“They throw a lot of pucks in. They’re the leading team in the league, as far as dump-in rates, and that’s the game they play. They try to suffocate you with their forecheck, and they’re good at it. They had their moments when they had momentum. I thought we had some looks. It’s a fine line.”