The N.C. State Fair will soon be packing up after its 11-day run, which means the Carolina Hurricanes can start unpacking.
The Canes had a lot of riding time during the fair, playing the first five games in a season-opening road trip. There’s still one game left – Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings – before the belated home opener Friday against the New York Rangers.
The Canes played their first Metropolitan Division game, and first in the Eastern time zone, Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers, and it didn’t go well. Despite taking a 2-0 lead early in the second period on goals by defenseman Justin Faulk and center Jordan Staal, Carolina was beaten 6-3.
The Flyers were the better team in nearly every aspect. Goalie Steve Mason was better than the Canes’ Eddie Lack. Their special teams were better. The Flyers, playing on home ice and determined to end a three-game winless streak, showed more fire and grit.
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“We learned a lot about our team tonight,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “We had some guys going, (but) we didn’t have enough guys going.”
The Flyers were going. After falling behind 2-0, they scored four straight goals in the second, getting a lot of net traffic in front of Lack.
“With hockey it turns quick,” Staal said. “We were hoping it would turn our way, the way we were moving forward creating good chances in their end, but the game is quick, and momentum changes fast. They did a good job capitalizing.”
Lee Stempniak’s goal late in the second, on assists from Victor Rask and Jeff Skinner, made it a 4-3 game. But the Flyers locked it down in the third as Wayne Simmonds scored on a power play and Jakub Voracek scored his second of the game to cap a three-point night.
“We kept our patience, and we stuck to the game plan, and we kept our cool,” Flyers defenseman Mark Streit said. “It was pretty impressive because they’re a pretty good team. They’re a fast team and pretty skilled offensively so you want to make sure you keep your patience.”
There was little on the Canes’ side of the stat sheet that caught the eye. Staal won 15 of 19 faceoffs as he continues to dominate the circle, which was needed Saturday with Rask having some uncharacteristic struggles on draws, losing 10 of 14.
Rookie forward Sebastian Aho, playing on Staal’s line, had a pair of assists and has five points – all assists – in his first five NHL games.
After Faulk’s slammed in a shot on the power play for a 1-0 lead, Aho teamed up with Joakim Nordstrom and Staal for a perfectly executed tic-tac-toe rush that ended with Staal scoring.
“He’s been good,” Peters said. “All these young guys who have come into the league with big reputations have played well, and he’s no different.”
The Canes had five penalties in the game, including back-to-back calls in the third against defenseman Noah Hanifin for holding and then tripping. Simmonds’ goal, giving the Flyers a 5-3 lead, came after the tripping penalty.
“We took too many penalties,” Peters said. “We’ve been a disciplined team in the past, and we need to get back to that.”
The Canes returned to Raleigh after the game and will practice Monday at PNC Arena before leaving for Detroit, their only visit there this season and a last visit to Joe Louis Arena. The Joe, as they call it, has been the Wings’ home since 1979 but is being replaced by Little Caesars Arena, which will cost $627.5 million. That’s a lot of pizzas.
But forget nostalgia. The Canes, with a 1-2-2 record, need a win to feel better about all that time on the road.