Pittsburgh Penguins' David Perron (57) and Carolina Hurricanes' Brad Malone (24) battle for position during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar
December 19, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) An effective power play has the Carolina Hurricanes heading in the right direction.

The Pittsburgh Penguins' power play had a rare good night, too, and new coach Mike Sullivan saw some positives. Not enough, though.

Jordan Staal and John-Michael Liles scored first-period power-play goals to lead the Hurricanes over the struggling Penguins 2-1 on Saturday night.

Staal scored 4:57 in for his seventh goal of the season and first career goal against his former team. Liles got his first goal of the year and first in 47 games with 5:04 left in the first period.

''It's always nice when the power play is clicking,'' Staal said. ''It gives us some extra motivation or extra confidence on the offensive side of the puck when it's going in on the power play.''

The Penguins have lost five straight, including four since hiring Mike Sullivan as coach to replace the fired Mike Johnston.

''For me, there's a lot of positive things to take out of this game and that's what I told our players,'' Sullivan said. ''When you continue to try and improve your game and play the right way, it starts to turn.

''You may not get the result right away, but it does turn.''

Cam Ward made 37 saves in his second start in as many nights for Carolina. He started a 2-0 loss Friday night against Florida, allowing one goal on 17 shots.

Evgeni Malkin ended Pittsburgh's 0-for-19 power-play drought with his 15th goal of the season in the second period.

''We scored a power-play goal, but it's just one goal,'' Malkin said. ''We need to score maybe a couple of goals 5-on-5. We played better, but it's a tough loss.''

Matt Murray stopped 24 shots in his first NHL start for Pittsburgh. Murray was the AHL's top goaltender during the 2014-15 season and got the start after Jeff Zatkoff allowed eight goals on 62 shots in back-to-back losses against Boston, the first time he started consecutive games. Starter Marc-Andre Fleury remains out, missing his third game with a concussion.

The Penguins have lost 10 of their last 13 games and been outscored 15-4 in Sullivan's first four games in charge.

Pittsburgh came up empty on an early third-period power play and Malkin missed the net on a partial breakaway soon after.

That helped the Hurricanes avoid their fourth losing streak of at least three games. Carolina has won five of its last eight and scored 10 power-play goals in that time.

''I feel like at the beginning of the season, special teams for us wasn't where we wanted to be,'' Staal said. ''As of late, you can tell, when you start winning that special teams battle, you're going to find a way to get points.''

Staal was drafted by the Penguins with the No. 2 overall pick in 2006 and won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009, but was sent to Carolina in a 2012 summer trade. He had zero goals and four assists in eight previous meetings against his former team.

Staal scored by using a power move to get to the net and accelerating down the right wing boards and past Olli Maatta before squeezing a shot under Murray's arm. Justin Faulk recorded his 100th NHL assist on the goal.

Liles scored on a slap shot from the point, a goal that turned out to be the eventual game-winner.

Malkin pulled his team within a goal at 1:59 of the second period with a wrist shot past a screened Ward on the power play, but that was it for the struggling Penguins.

''We had great chances to score, but it's still bad luck,'' Malkin said. ''I don't know what's going on. We play better, we're tight. It's a tough loss again, but (we're keeping our) heads up.''

NOTES: Pittsburgh returned second-round pick Daniel Sprong to his junior team and recalled Scott Wilson. Sprong scored two goals in 18 games. ... Phil Kessel played in his 700th career NHL game and Ben Lovejoy his 300th. ... Carolina's Riley Nash played in his 200th NHL game. Both teams are at home Monday night as Pittsburgh hosts Columbus, while Carolina welcomes Washington.

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