DeCock: Canes improvement enough ... for now

ldecock@newsobserver.comJanuary 25, 2013 

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The Canes Jeff Skinner (53) scores his second goal against the Buffalo Sabres' Jhonas Enroth (1), Alexander Sulzer (52) and Christian Ehrhoff (10) while the Canes Jordan Staal (11) and Zac Dalpe (22) look on during the second period at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Jan. 24, 2013.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Well, all that’s left is the Stanley Cup now.

The way some Carolina Hurricanes fans were abandoning ship after the two season-opening losses, Thursday’s win may provoke the same kind of overreaction. The Canes looked awfully good in the 6-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres, with Jeff Skinner scoring twice, Jordan Staal setting up a pair and Eric Staal clinching his 13th career hat trick with an empty-netter.

Those names were expected to be on the scoresheet early and often this season, and seeing them in so many spots Thursday offered some positive reinforcement that the Hurricanes are on the right track.

The thing is, the Hurricanes were on the right track anyway. They didn’t play drastically differently than they did in the two losses to open the season. They finished the chances they created. They got the horrible blunders out of their game. Cam Ward was much sharper.

Their improvement wasn’t dramatic. It was merely incremental. That was enough to move from the wrong column to the right one. After getting shelled in the first period of the first two games, it was scoreless at the first intermission. The Hurricanes couldn’t have been happier with the way they were playing, even before they broke through with four goals in the second.

“That was absolutely it,” Jordan Staal said. “Going into the second, we knew we had a great first. We finally came out strong, strong enough to put them on their heels and do the things that we need to do to create chances to score goals.”

There is naturally still work to be done, and Buffalo’s first two goals suggested the same areas for attention -- too many bodies in front of the net, too many unobstructed shots from outside into that traffic -- but the Hurricanes were largely able to avoid the ill-timed turnovers and defensive gaffes that proved so damaging early in the first two games.

“We had some good stuff in the first couple games,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “I know we didn’t have the results and we didn’t deserve it. But we knew if we could elevate our game and tighten things up and play better defensively, the other stuff would take care of itself.”

Jamie McBain came into the lineup and played well, as did Bobby Sanguinetti, who looked to be on his way out when Muller decided to sit Joe Corvo instead. It was a curious, but thoughtful, decision on Muller’s part, sending a message of accountability to the veterans while bolstering Sanguinetti’s wounded confidence. Muller can also take partial credit for Skinner’s performance, a second straight solid game after the coach criticized his admittedly poor opening-night play.

It’s important to remember that in most years, the Hurricanes would be halfway through the preseason right now. It’s just too soon to make any kind of assessment about this team, positive or negative. The timing is still a fraction of a second off, both for individuals and as a team. The older players who weren’t playing competitively during the lockout were surprisingly rusty, from the Staal brothers and Ward on down, but if Thursday is any indication, they’re starting to round into form.

These two teams will go at it again Friday night in Buffalo, and after that game it’ll be a little clearer what kind of team this really is. With each game, the veil will lift a little bit, until the full picture is revealed, four, five, six games from now. When that happens, the Hurricanes will hope it looks an awful lot like this.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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