FS SOUTH (TV)—After snuffing the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins in their home rinks, the Canes went into the back half of a four-game road swing flying high. But on back-to-back nights in St. Louis and Winnipeg, Carolina’s first visit to the new home of the ex-Atlanta Thrashers, the team was laid low.

Canes, meet the drawing board. Carolina needs a reset after blowing two 2-0 leads to close a road trip with losses in St. Louis and Winnipeg.
  • Photo by D.L. Anderson
  • Canes, meet the drawing board. Carolina needs a reset after blowing two 2-0 leads to close a road trip with losses in St. Louis and Winnipeg.

Inconsistent play kept the Canes on the outside of the playoff club last season, and they’re swapping Jekyll and Hyde games this season already. After blowing 2-0 leads in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Blues on Friday and Saturday’s 5-3 collapse to the Jets, Carolina is trending toward being a team that takes its foot off the gas pedal and tries to coast home on goaltending.

In St. Louis, the Canes’ workmanlike performance in Boston carried over early, as Jay Harrison flung a quick point wrister behind Blues’ goalie Brian Elliott for his first goal of the year. About seven minutes in, Jiri Tlusty wrested a puck from a corner scrum and chipped it up to Harrison, whose quick shot reached the net while the goalie was still moving. It’s a choice that other Canes blueliners might take note of, having found goalies ready and waiting when they’ve taken the time to catch a pass, settle it, and wind up for a big slapshot. Harrison’s decisiveness made the difference between a goal and a glove save.

Brandon Sutter continued his strong play in the second period to give the Canes a two-goal lead. Not two minutes in, he and Patrick Dwyer pressured the St. Louis puckhandler at the red line. Dwyer banked the disc off the boards, springing Sutter on a breakaway. He shunned any fancy moves, firing a quick shot high on Elliott’s blocker side instead.

But a push by the Blues coincided with some Carolina complacency, as the home team summoned a 20-shot period to take a tie game to the third. Not four minutes after Sutter’s goal, Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner worked their old New Jersey Devils’ magic to grind out a goal after Cam Ward rejected a brilliant Alexander Steen shot with his stick.

Ward endured constant pressure all period long and David Backes converted toward the end of it. A routine St. Louis dump-in took an odd bounce into the circle. It threw the Canes off balance, and Backes’ throw to the slot bounced off Tim Gleason’s stick and skittered behind Ward.

After trading stray chances throughout a tense third period, the overtime started out well for the visitors. Jussi Jokinen broke through a seam in the defense and drew a hooking penalty just 16 seconds into the extra frame. But the 4-on-3 power play looked tentative, and after it was killed the Canes seemed content to get the game to a shootout.

The Blues, however, had other ideas. With just over a minute left in OT, Chris Stewart turned Skinner inside-out with some nice puckhandling to fire a slot shot onto Ward. The goalie gloved it to get the face-off. Vladimir Subotka, who led an overwhelming face-off edge for his team, beat Sutter in the circle before throwing a pass from the boards into the crease for a Matt D’Agostini tap-in to win the game.

Moving on to their first visit to Winnipeg, the Canes sent backup Brian Boucher out between the pipes to spell Ward, who had to summon 40 saves just to get the overtime-loss point out of the Blues game. Boucher would see less rubber than Ward did, but would turn out to be the lesser of the backup goalies on this night.

For the third straight game, Carolina jumped to a 2-0 lead. Taking their game right to the net, Jokinen and Skinner bested Jets starter Ondrej Pavelec in the first seven minutes of the first. Both Canes goals came on the kinds of scrambles in front of the net that they’d not converted on against the Blues and Sabres.

After the second goal, Winnipeg coach Claude Noel boldly replaced Pavelec with veteran Chris Mason, and his team responded immediately. Carolina helped, too, by marching into the penalty box with four minors in the period. Winnipeg would convert on two power plays to tie the game before the first intermission.

With Chad LaRose off for tripping, Alex Burmistrov beat Boucher at the 12:32 mark. Then Alexei Ponikarovsky’s late elbowing penalty allowed Kyle Wellwood to fire in a Nik Antropov pass with under two seconds in the period. The last-second goal caused the Canes’ wheels to wobble, and those wheels came off in a three-minute stretch of the second period.

Buzzing Carolina’s zone persistently, the Jets peppered Boucher. Jim Slater’s slapshot found the five-hole to give the home team their first lead. Ninety seconds later, former Cane Andrew Ladd chopped a knuckling point shot that bounced off the ice and over Boucher’s shoulder.

Evander Kane capped the surge, sniping into a sliver of space between Boucher and the post at the nine-minute mark to push the Winnipeg lead to 5-2. All told, the Jets scored three goals on just six shots in the period.

Tuomo Ruutu got one back midway through the third period as Skinner racked up his third point of the night with his second assist of the game, but that was as close as the exhausted Canes could get.

The secret tragic storyline for Carolina this season is playing out at the face-off dot. The Blues held a 36-21 edge on Carolina, and tallied their winner directly off an advantage gained off a draw in the Canes’ end. Winnipeg—28th in the league on face-offs—also dominated 38-24 on draws, thumping even Sutter, who has been the best Cane thus far. Eric Staal’s four points in eight games is underwhelming, but the circle has proven to be a bigger challenge. No player in the NHL has taken more draws than Staal, but his 42.3% success rate is dreadful. Only Anaheim has been worse overall than Carolina this season.

The Canes have a few days to reset before hosting Ottawa on Tuesday night.