Dale Earnhardt Jr. will sound the warning siren Friday before the Carolina Hurricanes’ long-awaited home opener against the New York Rangers.
The Canes could have used Junior, and the siren, in their locker room before Tuesday’s game in Detroit.
The Canes were late-starters while the Detroit Red Wings had their motors revved up early at Joe Louis Arena, jumping to a 3-0 lead that had Canes goalie Cam Ward flinging his paddle in frustration.
“They were quicker than us early, that was apparent,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “Too many easy goals, too many soft plays.”
The Canes, playing the last of six road games to start their season, were without injured forward Jeff Skinner. But after regrouping during the first intermission, they did work their way back into the game, getting goals from Jordan Staal and Victor Rask in the second period to pull within 3-2.
“Guys were quite aware we were in danger of getting blown out,” Peters said. “You’ve got to man up and you’ve got to go to work and you’ve got to find a way.”
Rask’s goal, a little more than 13 minutes into the second, was his fourth of the season and gave him points in each of the first six games. Ward had steadied in net, stopping the Wings’ Steve Ott on a second-period breakaway, and the defense was tighter.
But the Canes then stunted their own momentum. A penalty for too many men on the ice, less than a minute after the Rask goal, handed the Wings a power play. The Canes killed off that penalty, but the Wings then scored a dagger of a goal with 2:56 left in the period.
The Wings’ Luke Glendening won a scrum for the puck along the boards in the Carolina zone, passing to forward Andreas Athanasiou for an open shot from the right circle that he buried.
The 4-2 Detroit victory left the Canes 1-3-2 after the much-discussed start. The Canes are the only NHL team to open with six road games – a product of the World Cup of Hockey and the annual N.C. State Fair run – and will go into their home opener last in the Metropolitan Division and in a must-win mode.
“We’re going to have to fix a few of the things that ailed us today,” Peters said.
Home openers usually are a joyous time. It’s a new season. So much is fresh. There’s a team identity to be shaped.
For 22 of the NHL teams, their home openers fell in either the first or second games of the season. Eight teams began the season with two or more games away, and the five road games by the Anaheim Ducks deserve an asterisk – four were opponents’ home-openers.
But the Ducks did play at home this past Sunday at the Honda Center. The Canes’ Oct. 28 opener is the latest in the league.
A year ago, the Canes were beaten 4-3 by the Wings in the home opener. Carolina last won its first home game in PNC Arena on Oct. 10, 2008, beating the Florida Panthers 6-4.
The Canes follow up the Rangers game with another home game Sunday at 5 p.m. against the Philadelphia Flyers. Then it’s on the road again for another two games – at Ottawa and Nashville.
The Canes had a scheduled off-day Wednesday and return to practice Thursday at Raleigh Center Ice. It could be quite a working session.
“We’re going to have to find a lineup that works for us,” Peters said. “We’re going to have to find an identity we can be proud of.”