DeCock: Worst possible start to season for Canes

ldecock@newsobserver.comJanuary 20, 2013 

— If there was one image that summed up everything the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t want to see 20 minutes into the season, it was Cam Ward sitting on the bench in a baseball cap with a great view of an increasingly overworked scoreboard. Goals. Penalties. None of it good for the Hurricanes.

Amid all the talk about how important it is in this shortened season to get off to a good start, to build momentum early, to keep pace in the standings because it’ll be nearly impossible to keep up, the Hurricanes managed to do the opposite in improbably spectacular fashion.

They didn’t just get off on the wrong foot. They didn’t just stub their toe. They didn’t stumble out of the gate. They did enough self-inflicted foot and leg damage to buy a metaphorical podiatrist a metaphorical yacht.

Bad penalties. Shaky goaltending. Untimely turnovers. You name it.

They lost 5-1, in part because the Panthers settled back into the La-Z-Boy like good South Floridians after scoring the game’s first five goals. That was that.

“I think we got our legs toward the end and got going, but there was a little bit of nerves early and they capitalized on the mistakes we made,” Hurricanes center Jordan Staal said. “When you’re down 4-0 early, it’s tough to come back.”

All the issues fans were worried about came to fruition, and even a few they weren’t. Ward’s training-camp performance was adequate at best, raising some quiet concerns, but there was little doubt he’d be ready when the time came. The time came. He gave up four goals on the first 11 shots he faced.

One was from point-blank range after a blown defensive coverage, one was a back-door goal and Brian Campbell’s two unobstructed slappers were delicately aimed, one of those coming on a two-man advantage. But even if Ward couldn’t stop all of them, the Canes needed him to stop one or two, if only to keep things from getting out of hand.

Things got out of hand. Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller pulled Ward at the first intermission. Dan Ellis came in and gave up a quick goal of his own.

When the missed connections and defensive miscues weren’t fatal, the penalties were. Jeff Skinner took an offensive-zone penalty to give the Panthers an early two-man advantage. Alexander Semin popped off on the way to the box and picked up an extra penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Joe Corvo took two penalties in the first period and the Panthers scored on both.

“We did address it, but it’s not going to be something that’s going to be tolerable,” Muller said. “We’re going to take that out of our game ASAP. That goes with guys with long shifts, it goes with the refs not being tolerant of any verbal abuse this year. We’re going to have to play the game hard and play it right. Penalties at the wrong time of the game and penalties in the wrong parts of the rink, we have to be better.”

It’s just one game, and the Hurricanes might just have run into a buzzsaw – the Panthers, playing in front of a rare sellout crowd and raising their Southeast Division championship banner, could do nothing wrong in the first 20 minutes.

This is no time to panic; only to regroup and reset before hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. If this was a wakeup call for the Hurricanes, then fine, wake up before it’s too late. Because in this shortened season, too late comes all too early.

DeCock:, @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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