The Carolina Hurricanes iced their most veteran lineup of the preseason, but they could not overcome the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 4-3 defeat.
Lucas Wallmark, Derek Ryan and Sebastian Aho netted goals for the Canes, who closed out a home-and-home, back-to-back set with the Lightning and a stretch of three-games-in-three nights.
Here are five takeaways from tonight's preseason home debut.
Let's get this one out of the way first: wins and losses in the preseason are virtually meaningless. With that said, there are plenty of elements within the game worth evaluating, and tonight, some of it was good and some of it wasn't so good, and it resulted in a 4-3 loss for the home team, their first in three exhibition games.
"It's still an evaluation part of the year, for sure, but you want to keep making strides," head coach Bill Peters said. "There were stretches I liked tonight, and there were stretches where we weren't nearly good enough."
The Lightning and Canes traded goals in the first period, with Adam Erne scoring his second goal in as many games to open the scoring and Wallmark later answering with a power-play tally to even the score.
In the second period, the Bolts came out with some jump and made it a 3-1 game in the first five minutes of the frame.
"I thought we got flat for a while," Peters said. "I thought we came out for the first 10 minutes of the game, and the game was going and had some good tempo to it. Then we got flat. Once they made it 3-1, I thought we started to play again."
Ryan scored his third goal in two preseason games to bring the Canes back within a goal, but Boris Katchouk's third-period tally proved to be the game-winner, even with Aho's late goal on a 6-on-4 advantage.
"There were things we learned here tonight. There were some good things. There were some things that definitely need to be cleaned up, there's no question about that," Peters said. "Individually, I thought some guys had some good nights."
So, let's look at an individual performance: that of Haydn Fleury, who tonight made a strong case for a spot on the team's Opening Night roster.
In the second period, Ryan was boarded by Anthony Cirelli. Fleury immediately tossed the mitts and challenged Cirelli for his behavior, a move that resulted in Fleury receiving an instigator penalty and coinciding 10-minute misconduct but also the respect and appreciation of his teammates.
"I didn't think it was the safest of hits. … I just stood up for him," Fleury said. "When all the boys are cheering you on after, it feels pretty good going to the penalty box."
"Instincts take over and he stood up for a teammate," Peters said.
In the third period, Fleury broke up a 2-on-1 rush when he dove to the ice on his belly and prevented the pass from getting across the ice. His teammates, just as they did after the fight, stood to bang their sticks on the boards in appreciation.
"I thought Haydn was good. I thought he was good in box-outs down low," Peters said. "He was physical in his box-outs. I thought he was real good in defending that 2-on-1 … he left his feet and denied the pass."
Beginning with the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., Fleury has had himself a good couple of weeks.
"That's a kid who looks like he's hungry and wants to be in the National Hockey League and is probably trying to tell us he's done with the American Hockey League. He's been really good," Peters said. "He understands how he has to play to be on our team and where he fits in with the group we have. He wants to make sure he carves out a little spot for himself."
Cam Ward and Jeremy Smith split goaltending duties tonight. Ward played in the game's first two periods and made 19 saves on 22 shots. In the final 20 minutes, Smith allowed one goal on 12 shots.
Scott Darling has yet to make an appearance in the preseason. He's a big "banged up," as Peters put it this morning, but it's nothing too serious; the team doesn't want to rush anything, especially in the first week of training camp. It's expected that Darling will be able to make his Canes' preseason debut on Saturday in Washington.
And, breathe. After three games in three nights, the Hurricanes will take the day off on Thursday with the next round of training camp cuts - likely in the 7-10 player range, Peters said - imminent.
"It was good to get everybody through the 3-in-3 stretch," Peters said. "Now we can take that next step."
The Hurricanes will take on the Capitals in D.C. on Saturday, the first of a three-game road trip that will then take the team to Edmonton and Saskatoon.