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Game Analysis: Hurricanes At Predators

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The Carolina Hurricanes dropped their season opener Thursday in Nashville, falling to the Predators 2-1. Eric Staal scored the lone Carolina goal, and Cam Ward made 23 saves in the loss.

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The main question heading into the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2015-16 season has been: Where will the goals come from? After the first of 82 games, the question is still relevant.

The Predators grabbed an early lead Thursday en route to a 2-1 win over Carolina. Here’s a closer look at the game.

Three Observations

1. Things didn't go right for the Hurricanes from the get-go, with Jordan Staal taking a high-sticking penalty — leading to Nashville’s first goal — followed by defenseman James Wisniewski, in his Hurricanes debut, going down win an injury just three minutes into the game. The Wisniewski injury certainly had a big impact. It left Carolina with just five healthy defensemen — including one 18 year old playing his first NHL game — for the balance of the game. That led to a lot of dominoes falling in the wrong direction. Wisniewski is a major part of the power play (which went 0 for 3) and also provided a physical presence on the back end. Carolina lost both the special teams battle and were pushed around for most of the night by the bigger, stronger Predators. Wisniewski’s injury didn't look good — he had to be helped off the ice with a clear lower-body injury — and Carolina doesn't have anyone who can fill those aforementioned roles, especially if the team looks to someone who has played in the NHL before (ie. not Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce or Trevor Carrick). Carrick might be the best comparable, but can the team afford to ice two defensemen with practically zero NHL experience? Probably not.

2. One bright spot was 18-year-old Noah Hanifin. Playing in his first professional game, Hanifin looked smart enough, strong enough and, by golly, people liked him. Wisniewski’s injury led to more ice time for everyone on the defense, but Hanifin took it in stride; he played 18:06 (all at even-strength aside from five seconds short-handed) and was a noticeable difference-maker all night. Based on Thursday night, one could easily say Hanifin could help pick up some of the slack from Wisniewski’s injury. But reality and common sense tell us not to expect too much, too fast. Still, one can't help but salivate at the potential of a Hanifin-Justin Faulk pairing.

3. There's no shame in losing to: a) a good team; b) on the road in their season opener; c) with one of the best goalies in the world staked out to an early 1-0 lead. Yes, you'd like Jordan Staal to avoid his reckless high sticking penalty, but both Nashville goals came on fluky bounces — quick aside: Cam Ward was rock solid in this one. Full marks — and the Canes settled in after a rough opening period. The takeaway: it's one game. Don't panic.

Number To Know

14:22 — Ice time for Jordan Staal, who came to Carolina to be a top-six forward and is seemingly back to being a No. 3 center. It was good to see the younger Staal playing on both the penalty kill (1:07) and power play (2:33), but it's puzzling that Riley Nash (16:03) got three and a half more minutes of even-strength time than Carolina’s alternate captain.

Plus

Andrej Nestrasil — No Hurricanes forward played less than Nestrasil (8:41), but he was arguably Carolina’s most efficient. He was a factor on nearly all 11 of his shifts, including being a net-front presence on his brief time on the power play. Nestrasil had two shots and likely earned himself more time over the boards for Saturday’s home opener.

Minus

Ryan Murphy — While Hanifin absorbed the extra minutes provided by Wisniewski’s injury with ease, Murphy looked like a lost teenager rather than someone in his 90th NHL game. Turnovers and tentativeness were hallmarks for Murphy in the season-opener. If Wisniewski’s injury is as bad as it looked, coach Bill Peters may have no choice but to keep Murphy in the lineup Saturday. But would anyone object to Carolina inserting both Michal Jordan (a healthy scratch Thursday) and someone from Charlotte vs. Detroit? While Pesce, Slavin and Carrick come to mind, perhaps a player with some NHL experience, like Danny Biega or Rasmus Rissanen, would be a better choice if Wisniewski’s injury keeps him out of the lineup.