RALEIGH, N.C.—Following nine months of anticipation and one of the more exciting off-seasons in franchise history, the Carolina Hurricanes entered the abbreviated 2013 campaign ready to earn their first playoff berth since 2009.
But right now, they’d be happy with just a win.
After losing 5-1 to the Panthers on Saturday in Sunrise, Fla., the Canes exhibited more of the same sloppy play in Tuesday’s home opener, falling to the Lightning by the score of 4-1 at PNC Arena. Carolina now sits at the bottom of the Southeast Division along with Washington, and has yet to earn a point in the standings.
While there still remains a lot of hockey left to be played—and ample time to turn things around—an 0-2 start has dug the Canes into an early hole; and with this hole, Thursday’s matchup against Buffalo becomes that much more important.
“There has to be a greater sense of urgency going into Thursday,” Jeff Skinner said. “There’s got to be a little desperation out of us. We have to stick with it, take the positives, and keep doing what we’re doing five-on-five.”
The Canes know they have their work cut out for them. And given the condensed schedule the NHL is playing this year due to the recent work stoppage, each game carries nearly twice significance of a game under normal circumstances.
It’s no secret: Carolina needs to quickly fix some pressing issues, otherwise an early slump could keep this team out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
“With 48 games, you have to come out hard,” Tim Gleason said. “We have to come out harder than we are … we have to gel quicker than usual.”
Much like the season opener, Carolina allowed a goal early in the opening frame, surrendering a Tom Pyatt tally just 5:18 into regulation. Pyatt, a former Ranger draft pick, tipped in a pass from Vincent Lecavalier, giving Tampa a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“You never want to give up the first one,” Eric Staal said. “Obviously they’ve got some skill and some talent and were able to capitalize.”
The Lightning struck again 11:36 into the game, as Cory Conacher banged home a rebound to send Tampa up 2-0. Once more, the Canes were faced with a multi-goal deficit in the first period.
The pairing of Bobby Sanguinetti and Joni Pitkanen were on the ice for both of Tampa’s first two goals, and given the way the two have played together, it appears Pitkanen will receive a new partner come Thursday. Sanguinetti, who has played 36 games with Charlotte this season, seems to be a bit overwhelmed by the pace of the NHL.
“We need a guy who can play the minutes with (Pitkanen),” Muller said. “We gotta find which guy can do that … Sangs was playing in Charlotte and he’s used to the minutes. We took a chance to see if that would be a match-up … overall, as a group we have to be tougher and stronger back there and defend better.”
Skinner Chips In
Jeff Skinner got the Canes on the board with a power-play goal 3:35 into the second period, bringing the majority of the sell-out crowd to its feet in celebration. After whiffing on a shot in front of an open net seconds earlier, Alex Semin sent the puck to the crease, which was whacked at by Jordan Staal and eventually put into the back of the net by Skinner on a backhand attempt.
“We were getting a lot of good looks there, and Jordan made a nice pass over to me,” Skinner said. “I missed it at first but I took a second whack at it and it went in.”
After a rough first game, Skinner was one of Carolina’s few bright spots against the Lightning. Muller spoke with Skinner at length following Tuesday’s morning skate, and he responded well with a performance akin to what fans grew accustomed to in his rookie year.
“(Skinner) was not happy with his first game,” Muller said. “I thought he worked hard tonight … He was probably one of our best forwards tonight. When he works like that, he’s a creative player that can change the game.”
Semin and Jordan Staal both earned assists on the Skinner goal—their first points with Carolina. Unfortunately for the Canes, that would be the only time they would find twine all night.
Power-Play Shows Slight Improvement
The Canes went 0-for-6 on the man-advantage against Florida, which led to some extra PP work in practice and a change in strategy. Carolina operated in an umbrella formation versus Tampa, its top unit consisting of Pitkanen at the point, Skinner and Semin along the boards and the two Staals near the net.
“We changed it up a little bit, I think our power-play moved the puck pretty good,” Eric Staal said. “We did a little better job being more aggressive … we didn’t score as many as we’d like, but those will come.”
“There were a lot of opportunities on the power-play,” Jordan Staal said. “We were moving the puck well. There’s a lot of good players out there, and with them good things will happen.”
The Captain Gets Angry
The frustration Carolina felt after going down by three was externalized when Eric Staal tried to fight Adam Hall late in the third period. The tussle was broken up before any punches were thrown, and each were given two-minute minors rather than five-minute majors.
“Eric gets his team. He’s the captain and he’s proud,” Muller said. “He’s not happy about the first two games.”
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Despite the loss, the Canes were a visibly more cohesive team than they were on Saturday. An improvement, yes, but not enough to earn a victory.
“We were a little better tonight than we were in Florida,” Eric Staal said. “Hopefully that keeps trending upwards. We’ll get on the right path and get some wins and go from there.”
The Hurricanes will return to action on Thursday at 7 p.m. at PNC Arena against the Buffalo Sabres.