RALEIGH — The margin for error in the NHL — the difference between winning and losing each game, in being a lottery team or a playoff team — is razor thin. And of late, the Carolina Hurricanes aren’t finishing their chances while their opponents are, and the end results are showing it.
Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog scored in the first and second period, and Philipp Grubauer — a longtime thorn in the side of the Hurricanes during his time in Washington — made 42 saves and won his first game against Carolina in an Avalanche uniform by a 3-1 result in Saturday’s matinee at PNC Arena in front of 11,753 fans.
“Their goalie, give him credit,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Their team played hard to tonight, and here’s the difference for me: You give their Grade-A players an inch and it goes in the back of the net. And that’s where we’re not quite there yet.”
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, one of those Grade-A players who had a hat trick Thursday in New Jersey, stayed hot to fuel Colorado.
First, he opened the scoring when he hooked up with Nathan MacKinnon on the rush to give Colorado a lead with 3:11 left in the first period.
The Hurricanes then made a mistake that led to the Avalanche’s second goal.
An ill-advised icing by Carolina allowed Colorado coach Jared Bednar to come over the top with the trio of MacKinnon center Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. The Avalanche’s top line — which was shadowed most of the game by Jordan Staal’s line and the defensive tandem of Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton — took advantage against Carolina’s third line and drew a slashing call on rookie Andrei Svechnikov.
Then Carolina’s struggling penalty kill was victimized by a bad bounce on its second opportunity of the game — and again it was Landeskog.
The Colorado captain’s seam pass from the left circle was blocked by Carolina penalty killer Jordan Martinook and went right back to Landeskog for an open-net tap in on Curtis McElhinney (19 saves) and a 2-0 lead at 9:13 of the second.
“Special teams is something that is kicking us in the butt right now,” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams said. “We’ll rectify that, but we did some pretty good things tonight. We didn’t score. Sometimes you put up eight, sometimes you’re put up a goose egg. But keep doing it right, we feel that we’re going to be all right in the end.”
Carolina did have its chances.
Michael Ferland was sent on a breakaway thanks to a Teuvo Teravainen stretch pass six minutes into second, but Grubauer’s save kept the Avalanche ahead. Three minutes later, Landeskog got his second for what was a seemingly insurmountable two-goal deficit.
It didn’t help that the Hurricanes’ power play continues to look totally lost, and a team that was scoring at will at even strength to start the season has run dry.
Carolina was 0-for-5 in the game and is now 2-of-30 (6.7 percent) — one of those goals came late in a game with the opponent’s net empty — with the man advantage on the young season, 30th among 31 teams in the NHL.
The power play’s stale, and you know, that’s gotta change,” Brind’Amour said. “So that might be an area we shake-up.”
The penalty kill, which killed three of four in the game, was also at 30th after the loss.
Also making things difficult was the play of Grubauer, a goalie Carolina tried to acquire this offseason only to have Washington balk at letting its former backup stay in the Metropolitan Division. Instead, Grubauer was dealt to Colorado — and continued his dominance of the Hurricanes.
Outside of a goal with 2:33 remaining — after MacKinnon pushed the lead to three, Sebastian Aho extended his point streak to eight games by taking a hit behind the net while feeding Ferland in front for Carolina’s lone tally —the Hurricanes’ offense had little answer for the Avalanche.
But the team’s leadership — from the coach to its captain — is not in panic mode.
“This is the danger zone for me, as a coach,” Brind’Amour said. “When you lose three in a row and everyone thinks, that isn’t really watching it, that this is drastic.
“I don’t see it that way,” he added assertively.
“It’s 82 games, but you don’t want to let things snowball and go the wrong way,” Williams said. “You know, we won four in a row early. We’ve lost three in a row. The trick is not to let it become bigger than what it is. Nip it, and as long as we approach it that way, we’re going to be fine.”
Notes: Clark Bishop played in his first NHL game, logging 7:10 of ice time and finishing with two hits. … Carolina had five players with at least five shots on goal — Dougie Hamilton and Svechnikov had six, and Williams, Ferland and Jaccob Slavin had five. … Ferland had the Hurricanes’ first fighting major of the season, dropping the gloves with Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson after Ferland flattened Tyson Jost with a clean hit.