It’s only been two games, a fraction of the 48-game season.
But, right now, two points would sure do a lot for the Carolina Hurricanes’ confidence. They face an undefeated Buffalo squad tonight and Friday in the team’s first of two back-to-back, home-and-home sets.
“Getting two points is like putting your cards in the game,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “Guys deep down are anxious to get it.”
This is the first time the 2009-10 season that the team has gone without a point in its first two games. That year, the Hurricanes dropped a 2-0 decision to Florida and got trampled 7-2 by Philadelphia out of the gate. A 2-1 win against Tampa Bay and 7-2 lashing of their own over Florida followed.
The last time the Hurricanes were void of points in their first three games was the 1997-98 season, the final year the team played in the Northeast Division.
During the last shortened season in 1994-95, the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils started 0-3-1, the lone tie coming against the Hartford Whalers.
“I don’t think anyone is gripping their stick too tight right now,” Justin Faulk said. “It’s two games in.”
Two games that featured a number of new faces in the lineup, especially among the forward lines. Chemistry is hard to spark without exhibition games.
“I’ll take the full responsibility of the first two games of exploring different options with personnel,” Muller said. “[Eric Staal] hasn’t had that set winger. We explored the first two games for different reasons, but now we have to get some consistency in the lineup.”
To find that consistency, Muller and his coaching staff slotted Jiri Tlusty, who played with Staal at length last season, on his left wing. Zac Dalpe, now healthy, returns to play with Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. The third line features Drayson Bowman and Chad LaRose with Jussi Jokinen in the middle The fourth line, which Muller said could be fluid up until puck drop, had Tim Brent with Kevin Westgarth and Patrick Dwyer on either side.
On defense, Jamie McBain will make his 2012-13 season debut tonight, as Joe Corvo will be a healthy scratch. McBain will be paired with Joni Pitkanen, a familiar duo from last season. Bobby Sanguinetti will skate with Jay Harrison.
Cam Ward will get the start in net, his 18th career game opposite the Sabres. A decision on Friday night’s starting goaltender will be made following tonight’s game, Muller said. Through two games, Ward has a 6.00 goals-against average and a .789 save percentage.
Abnormal as those statistics may be, they aren’t quite as eye-popping when considering goaltending around the league. Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe in Los Angeles’ Stanley Cup championship last season, is 0-2 with a 4.10 goals-against average and .849 save percentage. Henrik Lundqvist, last season’s Vezina Trophy winner, is 1-2 with a 4.03 goals-against average and .877 save percentage.
“There’s a lot of goals being scored, let’s be honest, that aren’t typically going in,” Muller said.
With that said, Muller said Ward knows he has to be better.
“We challenged our guys yesterday to play harder and raise their game, and he’s part of that group,” Muller said. “I don’t think you can challenge a group without giving a guy an opportunity to come back and prove it. He’s a competitor.”
A key to tonight’s game? A better first period. The Hurricanes have been outscored 6-0 in the opening frame through two games. The team has yet to play with a lead.
“When you’re trailing in six periods, it’s a different game,” Muller said. “We need better first periods. That’s been the one thing in the first two. We’ve come out tentative for some reason. We’ve got to come out hard here tonight and just play. Play hard, play simple.”