High on the Carolina Hurricanes’ priorities this season was a stronger start.
“We’ve kind of preached that in years past, and it’s essential to get off on the right foot,” goalie Cam Ward said before the season opener.
A year ago, the Canes were 5-6-0 in their first 11 games, after a three-game winning streak.
This season after 11 games: 3-5-3.
Granted, it’s still a small sample. It will be easier to get a better handle on the Canes and others in the NHL after 20 or 25 games.
But for Carolina, there’s an early urgency, and especially after a dismal 4-1 loss Sunday to the New Jersey Devils at PNC Arena. They face the Devils again Tuesday on the road, and they may be without defenseman Justin Faulk.
Faulk suffered an upper-body injury Sunday, and Canes coach Bill Peters said Monday that Faulk had undergone an MRI. Should Faulk have to miss some games, it would further stress a defensive corps that has not had consistently effective play from the sixth defenseman, whether it’s Ryan Murphy, Klas Dahlbeck or Jakub Nakladal.
The Canes called off a practice Monday scheduled before the team flight to New Jersey.
“We need energy (Tuesday),” Peters said. “We need to bring it on game day.”
Peters said Ward would be the starting goalie after Eddie Lack drew the start Sunday, and said there could be the other lineup changes.
Peters, asked Sunday if there were any positives to the game, noted the Canes did limit the Devils to two second-period shots, an indication that something was going right.
The kicker was that Mike Cammalleri had both shots and scored on both to give New Jersey a 2-0 lead. Cammalleri added a third goal in the third period, causing a few Devils caps to hit the ice.
The Canes did get the job done killing penalties – Carolina is sixth in the NHL at 87.9 percent. Andrej Nestrasil had a career-high eight shots and scored his first goal of the season, going to the front of the net in the third period to finally get a puck past Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid.
Peters switched up the lines during Sunday’s game but had the line of center Jordan Staal, Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom back together by the second period. Nestrasil and Nordstrom started the game on the fourth line with center Jay McClement.
The Nordstrom-Staal-Nestrasil line gave the Canes some solid checking defense and heavy offensive play last season until Nestrasil suffered a fractured vertebra in late February. While ready for the start of training camp, Nestrasil has been in and out of the lineup, sitting out five of the first eight regular-season games.
“It should get better each time he takes the ice, whether it’s a game or a practice,” Peters said. “We need that line to be that line. We need that line to be able go out and dominate shifts and tilt the rink for us a little bit. They did that for us on a consistent basis last year and they’ve got to get back to that.”
The Canes were 8-13-4 after the first 25 games last season. The 25th game was a 5-1 loss to New Jersey at PNC Arena considered the low point of the season.
Carolina responded by going 12-5-3 in the next 20 games but never could make up the lost ground, the lost points, and get into playoff position.
A bad loss to the Devils on home ice came a month earlier this season. The question now is how will the Canes respond this time?