Muller says Canes not physical enough in loss to Columbus

calexander@newsobserver.comSeptember 18, 2013 

— The Carolina Hurricanes, at long last, played a preseason exhibition game Wednesday.

They didn’t win it, as the Columbus Blue Jackets surged in the third period for a 5-4 victory at PNC Arena. Nor did the Canes play with the same feistiness that they had in some of their team scrimmages.

Canes coach Kirk Muller liked some things in the preseason opener. Then again, he didn’t like some things.

“I think for the first game I was expecting a little more bite to our game,” Muller said. “When I say playing hard, it’s not just physically finishing checks. I thought we had a group tonight that we could have been tougher to play against.”

Alexander Semin scored a pair of goals and Eric Staal and Jeremy Welsh each had a goal for the Canes. It also was the first NHL action for Elias Lindholm, Carolina’s first-round draft pick this year and the first NHL game in net for goaltender Cam Ward since his knee injury in early March.

Muller was pleased with the play of Lindholm, who centered a line with Jeff Skinner and Nathan Gerbe on the wings. Lindholm suffered a shoulder injury at the team’s prospects camp in July, setting back his conditioning, but played 16 minutes Wednesday and was used both on the power play and penalty kill.

“I thought the game was his best performance, compared to the practices,” Muller said. “He’s smart, he’s good in traffic, makes little plays. He definitely understands the game, both with the puck and without.”

Ward is coming off a third-degree knee sprain and the pre-game plan was for him to play two periods Wednesday, then make a decision on the third. He finished it out, closing with 26 saves.

Marian Gaborik scored twice and had an assist for Columbus, which was playing its fourth preseason game and is 3-1. The Blue Jackets trailed 4-2 in the second period but rallied as Ryan Johansen scored a power-play goal and Gaborik and Sean Collins then had goals in the third.

Collins’ goal, at 6 minutes, 26 seconds of the final period, was the winner as Brandon Dubinsky notched the third of his three assists.

The Canes outshot Columbus 15-7 in the first period, only to trail 2-1. Semin scored a power-play goal, but Boone Jenner and then Gaborik found openings in the offensive zone to rip shots past Ward.

“Guys were working hard, everyone’s back (defensively), it’s just we need to do a better job of sorting out when we get back,” Skinner said.

Early in the second, Welsh went top-shelf to beat goalie Curtis McElhinney and tie the score. Semin ripped another shot from the circle and Staal scored off a rebound for a 4-2 lead.

But Muller said some old habits then resurfaced: long shifts, turnovers, some mental lapses. The Blue Jackets kept pushing the pace while Mike McKenna replaced McElhinney in net and stopped all 12 shots.

“A couple of their skill players were able to generate some offense … but it was the same on the other end, too,” said Canes defenseman Jay Harrison, who had two assists. “We’ll sort that out.”

It was the first matchup between the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets as new NHL Metropolitan Division rivals, albeit a preseason game. Hybrid icing calls were made and the Canes also were stung by a new NHL rule that prohibits players from tucking in their jerseys -- Semin was called for a delay-of-game penalty late in the second.

The Canes were among the last NHL teams to play a preseason game but will catch up quickly with road games each of the next three days -- Thursday in Buffalo, then two against Montreal. As Harrison put it, “It’s a start.”

NOTE: The Canes made 12 training camp cuts, trimming the roster to 35.

Headed to the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) training camp are: forwards Victor Rask, Justin Shugg, Brody Sutter and Brendan Woods; defensemen Danny Biega, Mark Flood, Austin Levi, Keegan Lowe, Rasmus Rissanen and Beau Schmitz; and goalie Mike Murphy.

Forward Brock McGinn was sent back to his junior team, the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League.

See the box score from the game

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