RALEIGH, N.C. -- This game wasn't over when Carolina scored the first three goals.
Not officially, anyway.
But, with the watered-down lineup the Penguins are using these days, spotting the Hurricanes a 3-0 lead didn't leave much suspense about the outcome, either.
Not about anything, really, except Carolina's margin of victory in what became a 4-1 victory Friday night against the Penguins at the RBC Center.
The Penguins fell behind early and, with a lineup that's struggling to generate goals, were pretty much doomed to stay there, no matter how well they competed as the game moved along.
"We didn't start the way we wanted to," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "Once we got going, we didn't give up much. We spent the majority of the game in their end, which is what we wanted to do."
That wasn't nearly enough to prevent the Penguins' winless streak from reaching 0-2-2. And it surely was scant consolation that the Hurricanes victory might prove to be a Pyrrhic one, because captain Eric Staal left the game late in the second period with an apparent head injury.
Game: Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7:08 p.m. today, Air Canada Centre.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Brent Johnson for Penguins. James Riemer for Maple Leafs.
Penguins: Are 4-3-1 in past eight visits to Toronto. ... C Craig Adams has one goal in 27 career games against Maple Leafs.... Have gone 8-5-1 vs. Northeast Division.
Maple Leafs: Are on 8-2-2 roll. ... RW Phil Kessel has six goals in past five games. ... Penalty-killing is fourth worst in NHL, with success rate of 77.9 percent.
Of note: Penguins are 7-3-2 in second game when playing on consecutive days.
Staal, who was injured on a hit by Niskanen at 18:51 of the second period, will skip the game at Montreal tonight, and his status beyond that is uncertain.
"I was coming off my guy [in front of the net], and, as he shot, I just reacted," Niskanen said. "He's a big guy. Maybe I caught him in the chin, possibly, but I thought I went shoulder to chest."
While the hit on Staal was the most memorable sequence of Niskanen's evening, he had a pretty fair showing in his second game since being acquired Monday from Dallas with left winger James Neal.
Niskanen played 17 minutes, 42 seconds and was credited with three shots, three hits and a blocked shot.
"I thought he was one of our better defensemen," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He played solid with the puck and a little gritty. I thought he played a pretty solid game."
So, on balance, did right winger Alex Kovalev, acquired Thursday from Ottawa.
He started slowly, but become more relaxed and effective as the game progressed. Kovalev played on the No. 1 line and manned the point on the top power-play unit while logging 19 minutes of ice time.
"We saw some plays," Bylsma said. "He was pretty good on the power play, created some opportunities there. ... He showed what he can bring to the line and the power play."
Kovalev, it should be noted, wasn't the only Penguin to start slowly.
Carolina scored on the first shot of the game, as defenseman Jay Harrison threw a wrist shot over the glove of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from just above the left hash mark at 1:44 of the opening period.
Penguins left winger Matt Cooke took a cross-checking penalty in the offensive zone at 16:33, and the Hurricanes needed just 10 seconds to exploit that chance with the extra man. Defenseman Joe Corvo got the goal, beating Fleury with a slap shot from above the left circle.
"[We] gave them some opportunities to get their game going, which they did," Bylsma said. "And it was tough to come back from."
The Penguins had a chance to climb back into contention when they got two power plays in the first four-plus minutes of the second period, but they couldn't capitalize. Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward was at least partly responsible for that, because he made quality stops on Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy.
"Obviously, turning the game into a 2-1 game at that point is certainly something we were trying to do," Bylsma said. "The way we pushed in the second would have possibly changed the game, but he came up with those saves."
Although the Penguins had an edge in play for much of the final two periods, they didn't solve Ward until Pascal Dupuis scored on a rebound at 15:32 of the second, about 4 1/2 minutes after an Erik Cole goal had put Carolina up by three.
"That third one was a little bit of a backbreaker," Penguins winger Mike Rupp said. "And then we just couldn't get another one by [Ward]."
That's happened with a lot of goalies lately, which is why the Penguins have so little margin for error, whether they care to acknowledge it or not.
"We don't feel like we have to play a perfect game," Cooke said. "We just have to play to our system, play to our strengths. We did that in the second and third period, and you saw how we could control the tempo and pace."
But mostly, how they didn't come close to changing the outcome.