The Carolina Hurricanes made their season debut at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Tuesday in front of a sold out crowd of 18,680, but were unable to give their fans a reason to celebrate, falling 4-1 to the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning.
For the second game in a row, the Hurricanes outshot their opponents, faced a hot goaltender, and gave up goals at untimely points in the game.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort on Carolina’s part, but more about the lack of fear that they present to teams like Tampa Bay.
“Bottom line is, the area that we gotta’ be better at, is that we gotta’ be a tougher team to play against. We gotta’ be stronger around the net and be tougher to defend,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said.
“We need a couple more guys to raise their game just five percent and it makes a huge difference.”
Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon made 35 saves and many of them were on quality shots taken by the Hurricanes top shooters – Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner, and Jordan Staal.
“Sometimes they don’t all go in,” Jordan Staal stated afterwards.
After falling behind 1-0 early in the first period, and as the Hurricanes began rolling all four lines, Tampa Bay added another goal from Cory Conacher at 11:36.
Both goals came as the result of opportunities left uncovered around goaltender Cam Ward’s crease.
Even with their share of opportunities to finish around the Tampa Bay net, the Hurricanes just couldn’t get the job done.
Hearing the roar of the crowd
Starting the second period, the Hurricanes’ power play unit displayed its strength as Muller utilized four forwards to apply pressure on the Lightning goaltender.
The units’ efforts paid off at 3:35 into the period.
Garon stopped Semin’s shot from the right circle, but a rebound off of Jordan Staal's stab at the puck eventually found Skinner in the slot who tucked a backhand shot into the top corner .
The goal was a first for all three as Skinner tallied his first goal of the season and the assists for Semin and Staal were their firsts in Carolina Hurricanes uniforms.
Trailing 2-1, the energy in the building was released and those in attendance finally got a glimpse of what had been talked about since both Staal and Semin were acquired during the offseason.
However, Skinner’s goal was all the offense that the ‘Caniacs in attendance would see for the remainder of the night.
The Lightning added to their lead early in the third period as defenseman Keith Aulie skated down the wing and roofed a shot past Cam Ward from the right circle.
The goal came just 1:37 into the final period and all but erased the Hurricanes’ momentum at the time.
Though they kept the pressure on Tampa Bay, outshooting them 15-7 during the period, Carolina could not catch a break as what looked like easy tap-ins continued to either barely miss the net or were deflected away off a body or stick.
Tampa Bay’s Ryan Malone cleaned up a rebound opportunity in the slot, scoring a power play goal that put the game out of reach for the Hurricanes, trailing by three goals with just over 10 minutes remaining to play..
“I thought we did some good things throughout that second period, the power play was good,” Jordan Staal said.
“We found a way to get that big goal by Skins. We didn’t really build off of that, we kind of stayed stagnant and didn’t really keep our foot on the gas. We came out flat in the third and we were behind chasing them.”
Dropping the gloves
The frustration in struggling to find the net for the remainder of the game finally mounted to the point that Eric Staal dropped his gloves and released a few punches on Adam Hall.
Not his typical style, Muller described Staal’s altercation as a sign of his captain’s competitiveness.
“He cares,” Muller said.
“It’s not a lack of competitive level with a bunch of guys. Eric – it’s his team, he’s the captain, he’s proud, he’s not happy about the first two games. We’re going to keep challenging them to get better and work on it tomorrow and I’m sure he’ll lead the way.”
Staal’s comments after the game indicated that he wanted the team to play with more energy and toughness.
“I guess there were some good things in our game, but there seems a little bit where we I think we just need to get down and get gritty – more one-on-one battles, be physical in the corners – make it difficult for teams to get to our net.”
Not having time to dwell on their 0-2 start, both Muller and Staal have a ‘glass half full’ mentality that will carry the Hurricanes into practice to prepare for their next opponent – the Buffalo Sabres.
“You never want to lose two straight - we’re not done by any means,” Staal said.
“We’ve got a lot of hockey left.”
Muller echoed the sentiment and pointed out the strides that the team has made.
“We’re a better team tonight than we were the other night,” Muller added.
“We’ll dwell on the good stuff tomorrow. Like I said, we gotta’ be a tougher team to defend. Give Tampa credit. They played a good low game, sat back and defended well. We had scoring chances – we just gotta’ get a little more killer instinct and capitalize.”