Frustration mounts as Hurricanes suffer shutout loss to Coyotes

Carolina's power play drought has hit six games

Hurricanes goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov stands next to the bench during the closing minutes of Carolina’s 4-0 loss Wednesday to the Coyotes in Raleigh. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — If you want to understand the Hurricanes’ November funk, one needs to look no further than the first period of Wednesday’s game at PNC Arena.

Carolina held a 21-4 shot attempt advantage at even strength. The Hurricanes’ power play had 4:40 of man-advantage time, including 81 seconds of a 5-on-3 and an open-net opportunity for the NHL’s fourth-leading goal scorer. When the buzzer sounded after 20 minutes, Carolina had 14 shots on goal to Arizona’s one.

Score after one: 1-0 Coyotes.

Nick Schmaltz’s breakaway goal on Arizona’s lone shot of the first period, 66 seconds into the game, was all the Coyotes needed in what ended up a 4-0 win for the road team in front of a crowd of 18,775 made up of mostly sour Hurricanes fans.

It’s arguably the toughest stretch of Rod Brind’Amour’s five years as coach. The Hurricanes have scored 18 goals while posting a 2-4-3 record in their last nine games. Seven of those goals came in a win over Edmonton and three more with an extra attacker at the end of the game in Winnipeg. The power play has scored twice in that stretch, and not since Nov. 10 — now a six-game drought.

“It’s been not-so-good hockey, obviously,” said captain Jordan Staal, who uncharacteristically lost a puck battle in front of the Carolina net on Arizona’s third goal. “It’s frustrating. The puck’s not going in, we find little ways to beat ourselves.

“We’re making it a little bit harder on ourselves than we need to be. I think there’s a lot to improve on and a lot to get better, and it’s gonna have to start soon.”

Staal and linemates Jesper Fast and Jordan Martinook have all gone four games without a point. Jack Drury has none in seven games since being recalled. Jesper Kotkaniemi and Paul Stastny are at nine games. Derek Stepan hasn’t found the score sheet since opening night, running his drought to 18 games.

Frustration is clearly mounting in the Hurricanes’ locker room over the team’s scoring woes.

“It’s frustrating how many games we’ve been doing that,” forward Andrei Svechnikov said. “Just frustrated, obviously, but we’ve just got to stay focused and stay positive. We know how good we are as a team. We’ve just gotta find our game.”

It was Svechnikov, he of 13 goals this season, who missed the open net opportunity in the first period that would have tied the game and ended Carolina’s power play drought. The shot went wide, and Svechnikov slammed his stick against the ice in disgust.

“I don’t know, it happens sometimes,” Svechnikov said.

That seems to be Brind’Amour’s assessment as well. The coach compared the team’s recent funk to the one it had early in his coaching tenure. After going 4-0-1 to start the 2018-19 season, Carolina went 2-7-1 in their next 10, scoring just 18 goals despite outshooting its opponents in every game. The power play scored in just three of those games.

The tides eventually turned, and Brind’Amour thinks they will again.

“It’s not from a lack of chances, which is the good part,” Brind’Amour said of the team’s recent slide. “We can go in there and show all the Grade-A chances we had. You should score at least three of those and it’s a different game. … They’re there, you’ve just got to cash in.”

Pyotr Kochetkov had cashed in earlier in the day when his new four-year, $8 million contract extension was made official. Then he was the surprise starter after Antti Raanta aggravated something during the morning skate.

After allowing a goal on the only shot he faced in the first 20 minutes, Kochetkov stood tall the rest of the way.

His save in the second period on Travis Boyd, a desperate sprawling stick save to keep it a one-goal game, is a candidate for save of the year.

He then made four more big saves on Arizona’s power play at the start of the third period, but the Coyotes’ Lawson Crouse scored on a rebound four seconds after Svechnikov left the box to make it a 2-0 lead.

Arizona scored once more before tacking on an empty-net goal.

It pushed Carolina’s winless drought to four games.

While Carolina needs to find goal-scoring from somewhere — anywhere — Brind’Amour was fine with his team finding something else out of its current conundrum.

“Frustration turning into anger, I’m OK with that,” he said. “Let’s get a little angry on some of these. I hope that is what happens.”