“Middling’ Canes return home, take 4-1 beating from Leafs

Canes need to make a move

Carolina Hurricanes captain Justin Williams says his team is "middling" and needs to put together a winning streak after the Canes' 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at PNC Arena on Dec. 11, 2018.
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Carolina Hurricanes captain Justin Williams says his team is "middling" and needs to put together a winning streak after the Canes' 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at PNC Arena on Dec. 11, 2018.

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour says his team’s margin for error is thin.

Against the Toronto Maple Leafs, even thinner.

The Leafs, a team loaded with skill, playmakers and finishers, were too much for the Canes on Tuesday, taking a 4-1 victory at PNC Arena.

The Canes, in their first game home after a West Coast road trip, played without center Jordan Staal, still sidelined with a concussion. Power forward Micheal Ferland was back in the lineup after missing four games with a concussion, then left the game in the first period.

Canes defenseman Calvin de Haan left the ice bleeding in the first after being high-sticked by the Leafs’ William Nylander. De Haan was stitched up and returned to the game. Ferland did not.

Brind’Amour said Ferland “didn’t feel right.” He had no other update on his condition but the implication was more concussion symptoms for Ferland, who leads the Canes with 11 goals.

The Canes (13-12-4) squandered four minutes of power-play time after Nylander’s double minor. They did score on a second-period power play, Justin Williams with the goal, but couldn’t beat Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen again.

“That was a frustrating one,” said Williams, the Canes’ captain. “The commitment from the team that we all have to buy into wasn’t there tonight from everybody.”

After losing the first two games on the road, the Canes beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 on Friday and came back to Raleigh to play six of the next seven at home. Maybe get on some kind of a run. That was the Canes’ mindset.

“There’s huge urgency,” Williams said. “We’re middling, which is what we’ve done the past few years and it’s not good enough and we need to get a string (of wins) together. I keep saying that.”

The Canes’ best stretch was their 4-0-1 start, when they won four straight after an overtime loss to the New York Islanders in the opener. They have not won more than three in a row since but have had a five-game losing streak (0-4-1).

The Canes were two points out of third place and playoff position in the Metropolitan Division after Tuesday’s games, but with two other Metro teams -- the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers -- ahead of them. Boston and Montreal, both Atlantic Division teams, hold the two wild-card spots.

Tyler Ennis scored for the Leafs in the first, banging in a rebound, and Morgan Rielly scored at 13:51 of the second for a 2-1 lead a little more than a minute after the Williams goal tied it.

Carolina Hurricanes’ Justin Williams (14) scores against Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, of Denmark, while Kasperi Kapanen (24), of Finland, defends during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Gerry Broome AP

The Leafs killed off a Canes power play in the third, then made it 3-1 as Patrick Marleau took a pass from Nylander off the rush and beat goalie Petr Mrazek, who played well much of the game.

“The second goal really deflated us,” Brind’Amour said. “The third one kind of broke our backs. You can feel the bench ... we have trouble scoring right now and they felt like that was it, and obviously it was.”

Center John Tavares, who has tormented the Canes for years, scored his 19th of the season in his 700th career game for a 4-1 lead.

On Rielly’s goal, Canes defenseman Dougie Hamilton was in front of the net and inadvertently knocked the puck past Mrazek on Rielly’s centering pass.

“It was one of those nights where everything goes wrong,” said Hamilton, who had a minus-4 rating.

With the four minutes of power-play time after de Haan was high-sticked, the Canes managed two shots. Too many passes, not enough shots.

“On the power play we were right there and decided to make that extra pass,” Brind’Amour said. “That’s not our game. We’re not built that way.”

The Canes did score on the power play when Sebastian Aho carried the puck to the blue line, then found Williams alone to his left. Williams beat Andersen high to the glove side.

“We needed everyone on-board tonight,” Brind’Amour said. “Everyone needed to play a good game and I don’t think we got that.”

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.