It was only one game, one really bad period, one potentially very bad injury – a blip in the context of an 82-game season, easy to discount.
What’s worrisome about the Carolina Hurricanes’ loss Thursday night was not that the Hurricanes lost to a good team in front of a frenzied home-opener crowd, but how much the loss resembled so much of last season, from the slow start to the lack of offense to the bad penalties in the offensive zone.
The goaltending, at least, was excellent. So that’s a start. But there’s room for improvement in almost every area when the Hurricanes make their first PNC Arena appearance Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings.
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Cam Ward played well in goal, especially during a first period where the Nashville Predators pinned the Hurricanes into their own zone, and certainly deserves to start again Saturday. Elsewhere, 18-year-old defenseman Noah Hanifin looked comfortable enough in his NHL debut and Eric Staal got on the board, even if his goal came off a deflected pass and not a shot.
But the Hurricanes went 58 minutes without scoring and while they were eventually able to get in gear and soundly outshoot the Predators at even strength, they were always playing from behind.
The power play went 0-for-3 and the forwards who are supposed to carry the team offensively were varying shades of anonymous and ineffective. Elias Lindstrom’s quiet preseason carried into the regular season. Jordan Staal played only 14:22 – eighth among Carolina forwards – after taking an early offensive-zone penalty, although Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said that had less to do with the penalty and more to do with the way the lines were set up. (Peters started tinkering during the game Thursday and kept those changes in practice Friday, with Eric Staal moving from center to left wing.)
“If we keep going to the net, we’ll be fine,” Peters said. “Eventually the power play’s going to get going here and we want that to happen (Saturday). Hopefully it gets on the board. I thought we had some reasonable looks, good seconds (chances), good thirds. … Each and every night, we’ve got to make sure we’re getting the puck to the net and getting bodies to the net.”
Again, nothing new: A slow start followed by an effort that pleased the coach, but with no results.
The lack of offense wasn’t the only carryover from a year ago. It took less than 4 minutes for a catastrophic injury to hit when James Wisniewski went down clutching his left knee after an innocuous-looking tangle along the boards, victim of a torn anterior cruciate ligament that is likely to end his season after two shifts.
And it didn’t take much longer to spit out a ripe contender for Worst Play of the Season: Ryan Murphy’s baffling turnover in the offensive zone that led to an immediate Nashville breakaway. It set a pretty high bar for the next 243 periods and miscellaneous overtimes.
Murphy better improve in a hurry, because he’s going to get all the ice time he can handle with Wisniewski out. A defense that was basically at the quality level of expansion-team-plus-Justin-Faulk already lost not only a veteran but a right-handed cannon on the power play.
It isn’t the same as losing Jordan Staal to a broken leg in a preseason game, but the feeling is all too familiar.
Better to think of it as the final game of the 2014-15 season, rather than the first game of 2015-16. It was only one game, and the Hurricanes still have a chance to start fresh Saturday, this time with a frenzied home-opener crowd of their own.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock