Last season’s Eastern Conference champs left PNC Arena with two points Sunday, with Tampa Bay topping Carolina 4-3 in the old Southeast Division foes’ first meeting of the season.
1. Cam Ward wasn't at his best Sunday, but the fact remains the Hurricanes continue to struggle scoring five-on-five goals. Carolina struck first on Eric Staal’s power play tally, but couldn't again dent shaky Andrei Vasilevskiy until the game’s final minutes when Kris Versteeg converted a breakaway and Jordan Staal scored with Ward pulled with 0.1 seconds left. The opportunities were certainly there — Vasilevskiy was giving up rebounds and struggling with puck handling — but the Canes didn't take advantage.
2. John-Michael Liles has had a tough week and a half. The defenseman took a Jarome Iginla skate to the face on Oct. 21 vs. Colorado, then last night had a Ryan Callahan slap shot roll up his stick and catch him in the mouth. Liles went to the locker room after each incident, but later returned to play out both outings. Liles and Ron Hainsey are the only true veterans on the blue line with James Wisniewski out for an extended period following knee surgery, and the toughness Liles has exhibited should teach the Hurricanes’ young D the sacrifices needed to make it in the NHL.
3. After a three-point effort, Versteeg now has 10 points through 12 games, including points on four of Carolina’s five power play goals and in three of the Hurricanes’ four home games. The 29-year-old has scored in bursts this season for the Canes, with three mulit-point games — including two three-point efforts — making up most of his points. If Carolina can find consistency, especially from the top line with Versteeg and Eric Staal flanking Victor Rask, the team’s scoring should continue to improve.
Number To Know
1 — Power play goal and first period goal for Carolina. It was just the fifth time this year the Canes converted on the power play, and only the third time this season they scored in the opening frame. Prior to last night, Justin Faulk had all four power play goals, and Brock McGinn had both of Carolina’s first-period tallies.
Victor Rask — The second-year center has quietly had a great start to the 2015-16 campaign. His three assists Sunday give him eight points through 12 games (a 54-point pace), and he is centering Carolina’s top line with Eric Staal and Versteeg.
Noah Hanifin — It was a rough night for Carolina’s prized prospect. He was in the box for high sticking when Steven Stamkos ripped the go-ahead goal past Ward, and on JT Brown’s marker he was late to help (though we'll concede that Ward needs to make the stop). Just another day of learning for a player with a bright future.
As an aside, fellow rookie Brett Pesce has been better than Hanifin since his recall. That's not a knock on Hanifin, but rather a testament to the defensive depth the organization has built. If you'll recall, Jaccob Slavin was arguably the best young defenseman in training camp (and has six assists 10 games into his AHL career), and second-year pro Trevor Carrick is tearing up the AHL right now with four goals and three assists for the Checkers. Toss in 2014 first-rounder Haydn Fleury and you have quite an impressive stable of blueliners working their way through the Carolina organization.