It wasn’t the start they wanted, but it was just the first game.
The Carolina Hurricanes dropped a 5-1 decision to the Florida Panthers to open the 2012-13 season, and though the outcome might not suggest it, it’s not the team’s effort that proved fatal Saturday night.
“I was pretty happy, to be honest with you, with our effort and execution on certain things,” said head coach Kirk Muller. “We just beat ourselves early on. And to give them credit, they capitalized when we gave them the opportunity.”
The culprits? According to Muller, bad penalties at bad times and long shifts dug the Canes into an insurmountable 4-0 hole in the first 20 minutes.
“The good thing is, we can control that stuff,” Muller said. “If we get that out of our game right away, we’ll be OK.”
The Hurricanes were whistled for three penalties in the first period. The Panthers responded with three power play goals, including a pair from Brian Campbell. By the time the Canes settled into a four-line rhythm, Florida had already pulled away.
“We didn’t do the little things, the things we need to do to succeed,” said Patrick Dwyer, who scored the Canes’ lone goal. “It’s just simple hockey.”
“That wasn’t how we anticipated the game and season starting out,” said defenseman Jay Harrison. “Sometimes nervous jitters and anxious excitement work in your favor, and in our case it didn’t. Coming out in the second period, it was a matter of calming down a little bit, refocusing and getting those bugs out.”
In the last 40 minutes, the Canes drastically outshot Florida, 30-13, for an overall advantage of 42-25. Carolina had the vast majority of the quality scoring chances in the final two stanzas, but Jose Theodore stole the show, making 41 saves.
Goaltender Dan Ellis, who made his first NHL game appearance since Dec. 29, 2011, relieved Cam Ward after the first period. Ellis made 12 saves on 13 shots. Confident in his starting goaltender, Muller didn't hesitate to tap Ward as the starter for Tuesday against Tampa Bay.
“I think what’s important is that he bounces back mentally,” Muller said. “I said (to him), ‘Forget about it. It’s done.’”
After an off day on Sunday, the Hurricanes took to the ice on Monday with juggled lines and a focused pace. Forward Zac Dalpe missed practice with an illness. Muller said the team will see how he feels Tuesday morning before making a final lineup decision. Should he remain unavailable, the forward lines featured in practice might be those seen in-game. The defensive pairings were also tweaked for Monday’s practice, and Tuesday’s game will likely feature some different groupings.
“Not in a panic,” Muller said of the line changes. “We knew we’d probably have to experiment a little bit here and there.”
Panic was not evident – not on the ice and not in the locker room. While this compressed season is a 48-game sprint, Saturday was just the first leg. For every team in the league, these first few games occur in an evolving adjustment period.
“The bottom line is, a lot of guys in here haven’t had a full-contact game in nine months,” Harrison said. “That’s something you simply can’t recreate.”
“I think we just had guys wanting to do so much and do so well and they were so excited that it backfired,” he said. “I think the guys will respond tomorrow.”