Bill Peters waited a long time to be a head coach in the NHL.
He’ll have to wait a little longer to get his first victory.
The Carolina Hurricanes hoped to give Peters that victory Friday in the season opener at PNC Arena, but the New York Islanders would have none of it. Brock Nelson had two goals and two assists, Johnny Boychuk a goal and two assists and goalie Jaroslav Halak was exacting enough in net as the Isles won 5-3.
Peters, brought in to replace the fired Kirk Muller as coach, had an otherwise productive first training camp marred by injuries to forwards Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. Staal will be out three to four months with a broken leg and Skinner is sidelined indefinitely after a concussion.
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For the ninth straight season, goalie Cam Ward started in net for the Canes in a season opener. The coaching staff and players were introduced before the game – Jordan Staal coming out to the bench on crutches – and the sellout crowd, which included team owner Peter Karmanos, was lively.
But the Isles were the better team in too many aspects. Nathan Gerbe and Eric Staal did score power-play goals and Chris Terry an even-strength goal in the third period for the Canes – a late push they hope to carry over into Saturday’s turnaround game against the Isles in Uniondale, N.Y.
“We need to respond and come ready to play,” Eric Staal said.
Boychuk scored a 5-on-3 goal late in the first and Nelson followed with an even-strength score just after the second penalty expired for a 2-0 lead.
“The 5-on-3 and then another quick play by a pretty good player cost us, but we’ll get better in that regard and be ready (Saturday) night,” Staal said.
Nelson’s power-play score in the second period pushed the Isles ahead 3-0 as center John Tavares picked up assists on all three goals.
Tavares’ roughing penalty as the second ended led to the Canes’ first goal of the season. Early in the third, Justin Faulk got off a shot from the right circle and the puck glanced off the skate of Gerbe in front of Halak.
But the Isles quickly answered on Mikhail Grabovski’s goal for a 4-1 lead. Grabovski, a free-agent signee in the offseason, beat Ward high to the blocker side.
Travis Hamonic made it 5-1 with a shot from the point, but Terry scored from the right circle. Then Staal on a late power play.
The Canes carried the play much of the first but Halak, acquired by the Isles in a trade in May, turned back every serious threat.
“I didn’t mind our start. I thought we started on time,” Peters said. “But obviously we took a couple of penalties that put us behind the eight-ball.”
A holding penalty against Brad Malone, followed by a high-sticking call against Jay Harrison gave New York s 5-on-3 advantage, and the Isles converted their chances.
Boychuk drilled a shot from the left point for a 1-0 lead. Nelson then scored just after the 5-on-4 power play expired, beating Ward with a top-shelf shot.
The Canes had chances to take the lead in the first. Center Victor Rask, making his NHL debut, nearly scored off a rebound on an early power play, and Staal later had a good look in front.
“I think any time you can get a lead it makes it a little easier obviously,” Peters said. “If we could have got one there it could have changed things for sure.”
Ward allowed five goals on 26 shots and Anton Khudobin may start Saturday’s game. But Peters said the goaltending in the opener wasn’t a big issue as some shaky defensive zone play.
“I thought he was fine,” Peters said of Ward. “I thought we broke down too many times unnecessarily. Any time you do that good players are going to make you pay, and that’s what happened.”