Another sluggish start doomed the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, as the Tampa Bay Lightning paid their first visit of the season to PNC Arena on the back half of a back-to-back and left town with a 4-1 win in the Canes' home opener.
A friend mentioned to me before Tuesday night's game that the anticipation in advance of the Hurricanes' season opener was a high as he's ever seen it. Unfortunately for the sellout crowd, the action didn't live up to the hype, as the Canes dropped their fourth straight season-opening game at PNC Arena, a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As with Saturday's game in Florida, the Canes were doomed by a slow start and struggled to get their feet underneath them in the first twenty minutes. The Lightning got on the board first at 5:18 when Tom Pyatt batted a Vincent Lecavalier centering pass out of midair and past a helpless Cam Ward. Five minutes later, rookie Cory Conacher scored his second in the Lightning's first three games, a rebound from the crease from a Martin St. Louis redirection.
The Canes came out in the second period with more offensive jump, and it paid off at 3:35 in the form of Jeff Skinner's first of the season, a broken play that was also the Canes' first power play goal of the young season. The Lightning, who looked rather lethargic to begin the second period, seemingly got their second wind about midway through and kept the Canes off the board.
The game was salted away early in the third period when defenseman Keith Aulie, not exactly known for his goal-scoring prowess, managed to slip a weak wrister by Ward, a shot he should have stopped to make it 3-1 at 1:35. Ryan Malone, who had earned a boarding penalty on a dangerous-looking play earlier in the game, converted another rebound that Ward couldn't corral on a power play halfway through the period.
The Lightning locked down the Canes the rest of the way with Mathieu Garon standing tall, including a point-blank toe save on Jordan Staal with about five minutes to go and recording 35 saves on the night.
Kirk Muller, though, said that he thought the Canes looked better tonight than on Friday against Florida, although he would like to see them become tougher to play against. "But we're 0-2, and in a shortened season you look at it that way. But a lot of things are falling into place," he told the media. "Just like the last game, we'll dwell on the good stuff tomorrow and push that stuff."
Muller seemed to hint that Bobby Sanguinetti wouldn't be lasting long as Joni Pitkanen's defensive partner. "We need a guy who can play the minutes with [Pitkanen]. I guess we need to find which guy can do that. We felt that [Sanguinetti] was playing with Charlotte and was used to the minutes, so we took a chance to see if that would be a matchup and leave Gleason and Faulk together."
The loss dropped the Canes to a 3-8-2 record (with two ties) in home openers dating to their move to North Carolina in 1997. Officially, it's 4-7-2 since the 2010 season began with a "home" win in Helsinki versus Minnesota, but the team lost its first game at PNC Arena against Washington that year. The Canes return to the ice tomorrow afternoon for a noon practice, then face the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday at PNC.
- The Canes' loss drops them to their first 0-2 start since 2009, when they were outscored 9-2 in consecutive games against the Flyers and Bruins - an identical stat to the start of this season.
- The Canes have yet to beat the Lightning in three opportunities where the Lightning have been the opponent at the home opener: losses this year and last year, and a tie in 1998.
- Strangely, the Canes have yet to be outshot in a period this year, and have outshot the opposition in four of the six periods.