Hurricanes even-strength struggles continue in 3-1 loss to Penguins

Carolina drops fourth straight game, are 0-3 to start five-game homestand

James Guillory—USA TODAY Sports
Penguins forward Sidney Crosby scores a second period goal past Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward on Feb. 21at PNC Arena. Pittsburgh won

RALEIGH — Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin spent six minutes in the penalty box in the game’s first 23 minutes. Teammate Sidney Crosby had taken two minors of his own by near the midway point. The Hurricanes scored once on those power plays, but Crosby and Malkin each managed to score in leading the Penguins’ past the Hurricanes 3-1 on Tuesday at PNC Arena.Pittsburgh’s Carl Hagelin found Malkin alone in front with 10:19 remaining to end Carolina’s comeback bid, pushing the lead to two as the Hurricanes lost their fifth straight game.”A lot of the stuff that ends up in our net is after we’ve had it. … We iced it, they came over the top with the Malkin line, it’s in the net,” Carolina coach Bill Peters said. “Puck management, that’s part of puck management. Why would you ice the puck and let fresh players with skill come out and play against somewhat tired players?”It took only 135 seconds for the Penguins to sting the fragile Hurricanes. Pittsburgh winger Patric Hornqvist skated up the right win and fired the puck at the net, and Scott Wilson outbattled Carolina defenseman Matt Tennyson and redirected the puck in the blocker side top corner for his sixth goal of the year and an early 1-0 lead. But Malkin took back-to-back penalties to give Carolina a chance to recover. After 3:50 of power play time, they did.The Hurricanes put on a clinic in the offensive zone on the second of Malkin’s penalties, and former Carolina center Matt Cullen — hemmed into his own end while the home team pressed — coughed up the puck and Jeff Skinner made Pittsburgh pay, tying the game at 8:00 with his 20th goal of the year.Carolina had three more power plays after Malkin’s second infraction — including another call on No. 71 and two on Crosby — but couldn’t convert. “I thought the power play gave us momentum in the first, and then we needed to do more with the two in the second,” Peters said.The Penguins then got their prime chance late in the period and capitalized. With both Sebastian Aho and Viktor Stalberg in the box for interference and slashing, respectively, Pittsburgh winger Phil Kessel’s wrist shot from the point was redirected by Crosby past Cam Ward (19 saves) to make it 2-1 with 3:29 remaining in the middle period. It was Crosby’s league-leading 33rd goal of the season.Carolina outshot the Penguins 30-22 on the night but failed to dent Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray (29 saves) at 5-on-5. The Hurricanes last scored at even-strength in the first period against Colorado on Friday, a span of 165:12. “We had enough scoring chances but we just didn’t score,” Aho said. “It doesn’t matter how many scoring chances you create if you don’t score. There were a couple chances — off the post, a couple other chances to score — but I don’t know. We just need to be a bit sharper in scoring chances.”Notes: It is the fifth time in his career Skinner has hit the 20-goal mark. Only Eric Staal (nine times) and Sami Kapanen (five) have had as many 20-goal seasons with the Hurricanes. Hall of Famer (and general manager) Ron Francis had four with the Hurricanes but 14 in all with the franchise thanks to his 10 with the Whalers. … Carolina had 72 shot attempts to Pittsburgh’s 40. … Joakim Nordstrom finished the game with eight hits. … Lee Stempniak and Phil Di Giuseppe earned assists on Skinner’s power play goal. It was the first power play point of Di Giuseppe’s career.