Carolina Hurricanes

Canes look for faster starts in their hockey games

Canes coach Bill Peters directs the team during the second period against  the Winnipeg Jets at PNC Arena.
Canes coach Bill Peters directs the team during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at PNC Arena. cseward@newsobserver.com

The subject was the Carolina Hurricanes’ bland starts the past four games and how to reverse a troubling trend.

Canes coach Bill Peters first talked Friday about the need of getting pucks in deep and establishing the forecheck and avoiding turnovers early in games. An avid outdoorsman, he then turned to an analogy to explain the Canes’ slow starts.

“The biggest thing is you come out and you watch and you look around and test the waters – you dip a toe in like a young guy at the lake,” he said. “A lot of people just go head-first if they know it’s deep enough. I’d rather go head-first myself. We’ve got to be a team that jumps in head-first. All 20 guys.”

The Hurricanes stressed an assertive start Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets, then managed one shot on goal in the first 12 minutes. The Canes have been outshot in the first period in each of the past four games: 11-4 by the Columbus Blue Jackets, 17-3 by the Washington Capitals, 8-5 by the Calgary Flames and 13-6 by Winnipeg.

That’s 49-18, total. Carolina did beat Columbus and Calgary but lost in overtime against the Caps and were beaten 3-1 by the Jets.

Goaltender Cam Ward, who will start Saturday in the road game against the Boston Bruins, was at his best much of the night against Winnipeg and was the Canes’ best player. Confidently moving about the crease, he stopped 34 of 36 shots, and the two goals he allowed came on wicked tips by Jets power forward Blake Wheeler in the slot.

“We have to focus as a team on the starts,” Canes forward Jiri Tlusty said Friday. “We got burned (by the Jets) with another one. We have to play better in front of Cam because he’s been playing amazingly well. He’s giving us a chance to win a game most of the nights, so we have to take care of that and just play better.”

After going winless in October, the Canes had picked up points in six straight games, going 5-0-1. But the Jets, who have a nice blend of speed and size, got a solid game from goalie Michael Hutchinson and set the pace early.

The Caps did much the same Saturday, jumping to a 2-0 lead in the first period. Calgary also scored the game’s first goal Monday before Zach Boychuk’s goal late in the first period jumpstarted the Canes, who won 4-1.

“Ultimately it’s focusing on executing the game plan right from the start,” defenseman John-Michael Liles said. “When we do get into those first few minutes and focus on what we should be doing and not just free-wheeling it, we’ve been very successful. But it’s tough, especially when you’re on your heels the first little bit of the game. It can set the tempo and really establish momentum. It’s something we have to focus on right from the drop of the puck.”

The Canes (5-7-3) will need to do that Saturday at TD Garden. Game time is 1 p.m. The Bruins (10-8-0) have lost two straight and were fifth in the Atlantic Division after Thursday’s games.

“They’re a team that can jump on you quickly, especially in their building,” Liles said. “It’s an early game, and whoever can grab that momentum early, it can carry through the remainder of the game.”

Forward Elias Lindholm, who scored the Canes’ only goal Thursday on a second-period power play, missed Friday’s practice at Raleigh Center Ice. Peters said Lindholm had a “foot issue” but said he was hopeful Lindholm would be able to play this weekend – the Canes host the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.

Peters shuffled the lines in practice with Lindholm out, but Eric Staal was back at center after starting the Jets game on a wing with rookie Victor Rask at center. Staal moved back to center during the game, and it appears that brief experiment is over.

“Victor, probably when he’s playing with younger guys, he looks a little more comfortable and doesn’t force anything,” Peters said.

Defenseman Jay Harrison also sat out practice with a lower-body injury, and Peters said his status is day-to-day.

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