SUNRISE, Fla. — The game had ended Saturday, the Carolina Hurricanes had been beaten 5-1 and Eric Staal was on an exercise bike in a BB&T Center hallway outside the locker room.
Staal pedaled hard, with a purpose, working up a good sweat. It was as if the Canes captain wanted to get the season-opening loss to the Florida Panthers out of his system.
For many of the Canes, it was the first game since April 7. For some, it showed. There was little sharpness, and some players need to quickly get into the routine of practices, games and off-ice workouts to get everything in sync and get in game shape.
“First game, it’s tough to get real crisp right off the bat,” Staal said.
Many of the Panthers had been idle during the long NHL lockout, too. But they were playing at home, cheered on by a sellout crowd after a banner-raising to commemorate their Southeast Division championship last season. There was a little extra jump in their step.
“The players felt the buzz,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “I feel like we put on a pretty entertaining show.”
Three power-play goals and a 4-0 lead after the first period were a pretty good show for Panthers fans. It was reasonably easy for Florida from there, even though the Canes finally settled in and played more aggressively.
“We were kind of scrambling the first period and finally got our nerves on track and our legs going,” said center Jordan Staal, who played his first game for the Canes.
The Panthers led 5-0 before Patrick Dwyer scored the Canes’ only goal at 9 minutes, 15 seconds of the second period. Goaltender Jose Theodore, who finished with 41 saves, stopped everything else for Florida. Carolina’s Cam Ward was pulled after the first period in favor of Dan Ellis.
Canes coach Kirk Muller said his team generated more than 20 scoring chances but Theodore got the job done. So did the Panthers’ penalty killers as Carolina was 0-6 on the power play.
“We hit a couple of posts at the wrong time that might have changed it around,” Muller said. “But if you get that many scoring chances with the guys and the skill eventually you’ll score more than one goal a game.”
After the Panthers led 2-0, the Canes’ Alexander Semin had a shot glance off the knob of Theodore’s stick and later hit the post. The Canes had their chances.
Muller said he liked the play of most of his younger players, mentioning forwards Zac Dalpe and Drayson Bowman and defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti. He also praised the fourth line – Dwyer, Tim Brent and Bowman.
What Muller didn’t like were some careless penalties, turnovers, defensive-zone breakdowns and shift lengths that crept up during the game – Semin’s 26 shifts averaged 53 seconds, for example.
Eric Staal was calm in analyzing the loss and stressed there were some positives. There also are areas to be addressed before the Canes’ home opener Tuesday against Tampa Bay.
“Once we started to establish our forecheck and not turn the puck over at the blue line I thought we really took it to them, really,” Staal said. “We had a lot of shots, a lot of opportunities.
“The power play can get a little sharper. There are some areas we can get a little sharper at. Limit some of the mistakes at the blue lines and we’ll be right there. We’ll be fine. We’re excited to get back to work and be ready for Tuesday.”
“All it is, is sharpening up and playing a little harder,” he said.