It was a long time coming, this return of NHL hockey to the Triangle. The anticipation had been building for months, since Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin joined the Carolina Hurricanes over the summer, dampened but not destroyed by the delay occasioned by the lockout.
With no preseason games, this was the first in-person look for everyone at these new-look Hurricanes, as compelling a debut as any at this arena in a long time.
After all that, it wasn’t exactly worth the wait. After Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Hurricanes have been outscored 6-0 in the first period, which is no recipe for long-term success either. The anticipation has led only to frustration, that same sense of promise making these struggles all the more painful.
“Everyone in this room is really excited about the season and getting going,” Jordan Staal said. “It’s not an easy league, and with the lockout and everything, it kind of slowed the momentum down. A lot of guys were off for a while. We’re not where we want to be. The good thing is, we know we can get better.”
Two games into the season, the Hurricanes are still looking for their first win, letting the Lightning jump out to an early two-goal lead only 24 hours after the Lightning had played -- and lost -- at the New York Islanders. The path to missing the playoffs in the NHL is paved with missed opportunities like these, letting teams in the second half of a road-road back-to-back off the hook, especially in this shortened season.
Still, just as was the case in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, the Hurricanes were doomed by errors of commission, not omission. Effort again wasn’t an issue. Defensive miscues and bad penalties were.
The defensive pairing of Joni Pitkanen and Bobby Sanguinetti was victimized for the two first-period Tampa goals, and one has to imagine Jamie McBain will make his season debut Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres. Another offensive-zone penalty, this time by Jussi Jokinen, led to the killer power-play goal that made it 4-1.
That story is all too familiar even at this earliest of junctures.
“We have to stay the course,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “There were some good things, believe it or not. We just have to push each other and believe in each other.”
Muller loaded up the first power-play unit with both Eric and Jordan Staal, Semin, Jeff Skinner and Pitkanen and was rewarded with a Skinner goal, a deft flick over Tampa goalie Mathieu Garon on a rebound. The two Staals only played one four-on-four shift together Saturday, but this unit looked potentially lethal if the chemistry clicks.
There was enough other progress on display Tuesday to avert panic -- the Hurricanes outchanced the opposition for the second straight game despite being outscored by a combined 11-2 -- but there’s also no question the Hurricanes don’t have the luxury of waiting for everything to fall into place. They’re falling behind already, and quickly. This isn’t good enough.
“It’s just frustrating knowing we picked up some good players,” Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason said. “The tough thing is, we’ve got to gel even quicker than usual. We have to figure it out as quickly as we can.”
It wasn’t quickly enough Tuesday, the aisles full of departing fans with eight minutes to go. They had waited a long time for this. It’ll take a little longer for the Hurricanes to produce something worth watching to the end.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947