This is how it was supposed to look, how the Carolina Hurricanes drew it up long ago, with Jeff Skinner dominating and Victor Rask piling up points. For one night, anyway, it all came together.
With Skinner coming within a swatch of Bryan Bickell’s jersey of a hat trick and Cam Ward making crucial, timely saves, the Hurricanes won their home-ice opener for the first time since October 2008 with a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on Friday.
Which isn’t to say this was a textbook performance. The Rangers outshot the Hurricanes 29-21, Elias Lindholm continues to be merely a rumor and the brutal giveaways that forced Ward to bail out his teammates weren’t part of the plan, either.
Klas Dahlbeck had the worst night at PNC Arena since a certain “Dawson’s Creek” star got thrown out, benched for the end of the second period and almost all of the third after being directly responsible for one goal and nearly two or three more, the exception among a defensive group that was otherwise solid.
Still, it had been eight years since the Hurricanes won their home opener, and not only was a win Friday needed to begin the process of recovering from a 1-3-2 start during their six-game road trip to open the season but there’s some historical precedent for what a win in the home opener can mean.
Since moving to North Carolina, the Hurricanes have never made the playoffs in a season when they lost their home opener. Related: They were 0-6-1 over the past seven postseason-free seasons.
There’s an asterisk in there, because the 2010-11 home opener was technically a win over the Minnesota Wild in Finland, a two-game neutral-site series to open the season with the two alternating as the home team. The PNC Arena opener was a loss to Washington.
So perhaps “home-ice opener” is a better way to put it, but still, it doesn’t change the numbers. The home openers in 1998-99 and 2000-01 were ties; in 2001-02, 2005-06 and 2008-09 they were wins; and everything else has been a loss, all but three in regulation.
It’s hard to point to talent, because while the Hurricanes had good teams in those seasons, a few took a while to find their stride, and other teams (the 2006-07 and 2007-08 squads in particular) had no shortage of talent despite missing the playoffs. A strange correlation indeed, but one that now bodes well for this particular group.
An even better omen: Skinner, after missing Wednesday’s loss at the Detroit Red Wings and Thursday’s practice with what was curiously described by coach Bill Peters as a “middle body” injury, a new twist on the NHL’s upper/lower obfuscation, now has nine points – four goals and five assists – in six games to start the season.
He is, other than Ward, the Hurricanes’ most important player, their one true and gifted natural goal-scorer capable of creating something from nothing. While there are others with that potential, only Skinner has proven he can do it. Skinner is at an age where he should be hitting his stride, on the ice and in the dressing room, and in this small sample to begin the season there’s every indication he is.
Ward and Eddie Lack, meanwhile, came into the game with the worst combined save percentage in the NHL. But Ward was sharp early, flashing his left pad to deny Michael Grabner after Dahlbeck turned it over in front of the Carolina net, and he’d later deny Mika Zibanejad on back-to-back point-blank chances from the left circle, among other saves.
It was the kind of game-saving stuff the Hurricanes haven’t gotten from their goalies this season, and all too rarely from Ward over the past few years.
All of that is better news for the Hurricanes than any coincidental string of home-opener results, as welcome a change as a win was Friday night.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock