RALEIGH Carolina Hurricanes fans have waited a long time to see their team back on home ice, to see Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin in Canes sweaters at PNC Arena.
The wait ends Tuesday night, when the Canes face the Tampa Bay Lightning in their home opener. It will be standing room only for a game that already has something of a must-win feel to it.
Canes coach Kirk Muller, perhaps already sensing the urgency, didnt wait long to make changes after the 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers in Saturdays season opener. Muller has tinkered with the lines, switched up the power-play units and looked at different defensive pairings.
But one thing wont change: Cam Ward will be in goal.
Ward was pulled after the first period at Florida, after being touched for four goals. Three came on power plays and all on quality shots, but as Ward said Monday of his play, Obviously it wasnt good enough.
Rookie forward Jonathan Huberdeau scored at even strength for the first Florida goal, then defenseman Brian Campbell ripped a shot past Wards head on the power play. Campbell scored again on a 5-on-3 power play and Scottie Upshall also scored with a tight-angle shot for a 4-0 Panthers lead.
Ive got to be able to give our team a chance to win by making a big save, especially early in the game, Ward said. Unfortunately I wasnt able to stop that first one and then they get the power-play goal by Campbell. After letting in two goals on the first three shots, you feel like you sit back in your net and youre a little uncomfortable.
One thing Ive learned as a pro is that it doesnt do you any good to dwell on it. You just move forward. Im looking forward to (Tuesday) night and getting the opportunity to redeem yourself.
Muller said that was the gist of a short conversation he had with Ward forget it. The coach noted other big-name goalies in the league stumbled in their first starts, mentioning Jonathan Quick of the L.A. Kings and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, and noted the inactivity caused by the NHL lockout affected some more than others.
Ward beat the the Lightning three times last season oddly, all on the road. Tampa Bay won all three games against Ward and the Canes in Raleigh and have won five straight at PNC Arena.
The Lighting opened this season with a 6-3 win Saturday over the Washington Capitals but fell 4-3 on the road Monday against the New York Islanders.
I think whats important is that (Ward) bounces back mentally, Muller said. Rolls up the sleeves, gets ready, works through this.... Hes the first to say, I wasnt good and thats OK. The key is how you respond.
While Muller will stick with Ward, he shifted forward Drayson Bowman onto Eric Staals line at left wing opposite Semin during Mondays practice. He had Jordan Staal centering a line with Jiri Tlusty and Chad LaRose, moving Jeff Skinner to Jussi Jokinens line along with Patrick Dwyer.
Forward Zac Dalpe, who played on Jordan Staals line Saturday, missed practice with an illness, Muller said. That caused part of the line shuffling, and Dalpes availability wont be known until after Tuesdays morning skate.
Muller didnt name his defensive pairs, but said there likely would be changes. Defenseman Jamie McBain was a healthy scratch in the opener.
After the Canes 0-for-6 power-play showing at Florida, Muller had Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Semin, Skinner and Joni Pitkanen on the No. 1 power-play team Monday. The Staal brothers were on the ice together only briefly Saturday, in a four-on-four situation.
A lot of Canes fans hoped to see Staal, Staal and Semin together on the same line. The power play will have to do for now.
We had a week of training camp, with no games, so its tough to get a real feel for where guys are going to fit, Eric Staal said. It might tweak continually now for the next couple of games. Once we get comfortable and everybody gets in the right game shape for Kirks system, its going to help us.
Well make adjustments as we go. Im sure other teams are doing the same thing.