The Carolina Hurricanes opened the 2011-12 season very much like they spent most of the previous campaign — with back-to-back games. The Canes held their own in both games, but came away with just one point after losing their opener, 5-1, Friday to Tampa Bay at the RBC Center, then falling in overtime to the Capitals on the road, 4-3.
There will be no rest for the weary, as Carolina gets Sunday off but will play a matinee in New Jersey Monday, then return home for Wednesday’s nationally televised home game with the reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
1. One of the biggest concerns heading into the season was Carolina's power play, but two games in it's the penalty kill that has failed the Canes. The Lightning and Capitals converted four of 11 opportunities against the Hurricanes, though only one was of the standard five-on-four variety. Carolina surrendered two goals in each game, including go-ahead — and eventual game-winning — tallies, and particularly struggled in 5-on-3 and 4-on-3 situations, allowing three total goals in the two games.
The worst part is Carolina often put themselves down a man (or two) with careless or undisciplined play. Rookie Justin Faulk, playing his his first NHL game, took an interference penalty late in the second period against Tampa Bay after his shot was blocked and he hauled down Ryan Shannon to avoid a possible breakaway. Jussi Jokinen said something to the official, earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That ensuing 5-on-3 led to Vincent Lecavalier's goal that pushed the Lightning ahead for good. Then Saturday, Joni Pitkanen boarded Washington's Mike Knuble, leading to Brooks Laich's goal with less than four minutes left that gave the Caps the lead. Carolina needs to avoid foolish penalties, and certainly needs to perform better when they are down a man.
2. Coach Paul Maurice's lines have not yielded much offense thus far, but his decision to move Jokinen on to the first power play unit with Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner for the Washington game worked wonders for Carolina's man-advantage play. Staal was the beneficiary, scoring twice on the power play, while Skinner assisted on both. Jokinen was also rewarded, earning an assist on Staal's game-opening goal, plus scoring with Brian Boucher pulled from the net late against the Caps, forcing overtime. The challenge for Maurice will be to generate offense at full strength. He tried to spark the lines by shuffling around his wings, giving Chad LaRose first line duties while reuniting Tuomo Ruutu with Jokinen. Anthony Stewart, who played well vs. Washington, was also promoted, switching spots with Jiri Tlusty. Who knows what Maurice has planned for Monday afternoon's game against the Devils, but Zac Dalpe has been stranded on the fourth line waiting for his chance.
3. The good news from the faceoff dot? Brandon Sutter has been great so far, winning 24 of 37 draws for a 64.9 percentage. Throw in Tim Brent's sufficient 9-for-16 showing (56.2 percent) and the Canes are getting solid contributions om faceoffs. Unfortunately, Staal is still an issue. He has won just 17 of 49 faceoffs (34.7 percent) and was a putrid 6 of 22 in the opener. Jokinen hasn't been much better, losing 15 of the 24 faceoffs he's taken for a 37.5 winning percentage. The overall 45.6 percent is a tick better than last year's terrible 44.6 percent (29th in the league), and the Canes — Staal in particular — need to be better.
Number To Know
0 — The number of goals Carolina has allowed in the first period through two regular season games. What makes that significant is the fact the Hurricanes did not allow a goal in the opening frame in any of their six preseason games either. In Friday's game against Tampa Bay, the Canes carried much of the play and led 1-0 after a period, then led 1-0 Saturday after one despite the Caps carrying the play in the middle of the period. The Canes have been outshot in the second and third periods of both games, but tallied more shots than both the Lightning and Capitals in the first period of their first two games.
Jeff Skinner — It's early, but so much for the sophomore slump. Skinner scored Carolina's lone goal in Friday's loss, then followed that up with three assists Saturday. Four goals for Carolina through two games, and Skinner has a part in all of them, ranking him tied for fourth in the league in scoring with four points.
Tuomo Ruutu — Numbers don't tell us everything — Skinner and Staal are each a minus-3 — but Ruutu is a team-worst minus-4 (along with Faulk) and hasn't thrown his body around as he did last season. It may not be Ruutu's fault as he spent most of the preseason at center before being moved back to wing at the last minute, but the Canes need his physicality more than ever now that Erik Cole is gone.