The Carolina Hurricanes may have reached the Eastern Conference finals last spring, but they've failed to carry any of that momentum into the 2009-10 season. Leading the NHL in penalty minutes isn't helping their cause.
The Hurricanes will try to avoid their longest losing streak in almost seven years Wednesday night when they face the St. Louis Blues for the only time this season.
Carolina (2-5-3) used a 9-2-0 run to gain the East's sixth seed in the playoffs last April. The club went on to eliminate New Jersey and Boston -- both division champions -- before getting swept in the conference finals by eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh.
The Hurricanes haven't looked like the same team this season. They're 0-3-3 in their last six games, including a 3-2 overtime loss at Minnesota on Saturday. They haven't dropped seven in a row since Jan. 25-Feb. 11, 2003.
Carolina's sluggish start has seen it accumulate a league-high 224 penalty minutes, 33 more than the next team -- San Jose -- while playing two fewer games. The Hurricanes were the least penalized team last season with 802 minutes.
They were whistled for nine minors and 23 penalty minutes against the Wild after logging a season-high 47 minutes in the penalty box during a 5-4 loss at Colorado the previous night.
Left wing Ray Whitney, who leads Carolina with four goals and eight points, isn't happy with what he considers inconsistency by the referees.
"The problem is there is such a gray area nowadays. One shift it's a penalty, and then next shift it's not. Then either make them all penalties or make them all not," said Whitney, who had two assists Saturday. "It's frustrating to us, but that's not why we lost by any means. We're not blaming refereeing."
Eric Staal is also off to a slow start, getting three goals and one assist in 10 games after posting 40 goals and 35 assists last season. The three-time All-Star center was a major part of Carolina's offensive surge in the playoffs, netting 10 goals with five assists in 18 postseason contests.
In five career games against the Blues (4-4-1), he has four goals and two assists.
The Hurricanes took both meetings from St. Louis last season, winning 2-1 at RBC Center to take their third consecutive matchup there since a loss Jan. 20, 2003.
The Blues spent plenty of time in the penalty box themselves Saturday, when they were called for a season-high 55 penalty minutes in a 4-1 loss to Dallas.
"There's different types of losses," coach Andy Murray said. "There's a loss like we had in Pittsburgh (a 5-1 defeat Oct. 20), which is one that's hard to accept as a coach. All losses are tough to accept, but there's a difference (Saturday). I thought we had energy, we had some legs, we were working."
Murray will likely opt to use Chris Mason in goal after backup Ty Conklin made 27 saves against the Stars.
Mason is 2-3-1 with a 2.81 goals-against average in six starts, including a 20-save effort in a 3-1 win over Minnesota on Friday. That snapped his personal four-game slide (0-3-1), which saw him post a 3.25 GAA.
He has a 1.01 GAA in three starts against Carolina, but only a 1-2-0 record to show for it.