When the Caniac Nation was tracking Bill Peters as a new coach last fall, one of his regular phrases and points of emphasis was the need to “start on time.” The Canes failure to start on time drove the outcome and was a lead story along with the leg injury suffered by James Wisniewski early in the game.
The Canes looked like rookies who were fighting through massive first game jitters early in the game. Jordan Staal took an ‘ugh’ high sticking penalty less than 20 seconds into his first shift about 1 minute into the game. That was followed almost immediately by Nathan Gerbe completely whiffing on a clearing attempt and setting up a Predator player between the faceoff circles. Then Ron Hainsey snapped his stick without much pressure trying to play a puck on the same penalty kill. It all culminated with a puck going off Hainsey’s skate for the Preds first goal. Sensing timidity and weakness, Nashville then dialed up the forecheck and neutral zone pressure and pretty much ate the Canes alive for the rest of the first period. Some players had more trouble than others, but it really was a collective inability to move the puck from 1 stick to another to get out of their own end. The Canes registered their first shot on goal 6 minutes intot he game when Jeff Skinner flung a low-percentage shot at the net entering the zone 1-on-1 without many options. When the first period ended, the Canes had been outshot 24 to 10 and had been tripled in shots on goal. I counted a total of 2 medium grade scoring chances in the first period.
The Canes did emerge from the locker room to play better in the second period, but a part of that was Nashville backing up a little on the forecheck against a scoring-challenged team with Pekka Rinne in net. The shot totals were better in the second and third periods but nothing to rave about in terms of quality and quantity given what was needed. Give the Canes credit for not quitting and playing hungry and desperate in the last couple minutes playing 6-on-5. Deduct points for finding any amount of desperation only after things were about past desperate even.
The flurry at the end led to an Eric Staal goal from a wide angle and through Victor Rask-created traffic in front of the net to pull to within 2-1. And the Canes had a few chances to tie after that but ultimately lost 2-1.
For anyone who did not watch the game, the other big news is an early leg injury to James Wisniewski who did not return. It was the full ‘writhing on the ice and putting no weight on it coming off the ice’, so working minus any medical qualifications it did not look good.
The funny thing is there are a decent number of player positives, but only before deducting a minus 5 across the board for the start and complete inability to move the puck in the first period.
Player and other random notes:
–Noah Hanifin. He was by no means exempt from the train wreck that was the first period. He actually had a few passes go off sticks exiting the defensive zone. It was hard to tell whether the passes were behind/in skates or maybe bouncing/rolling. Regardless, he did not look out of place in his first NHL game. Maybe most telling to me was that his patience level with the puck on his stick looked similar to at prospect camp and in preseason which is a measure of poise. Hanifin was not phenomenal in his NHL debut, but he was not in over his head either.
–2 periods. That is how long the current line combinations lasted.
–Ryan Murphy. He settled in a bit as the game wore on, but he had a real rough time of it in the first period. The low light was when he was picked clean at the offensive blue line for a breakaway, but he had a couple other turnovers and failed to win/keep multiple pucks dumped behind him.
–Gerbe/Nash/JStaal. I am not sure the trio had a single scoring chance before being separated. As I wrote a couple days back, if this line works it could really help balance the offense. But the challenge is that it is really hard to score enough with virtually nothing for setup skills on a line.
–Kris Versteeg. He had a pretty good first game despite not registering a point. He was 1 of few players who seemed to play with a crispness and sense of urgency with the puck on his stick.
–Eric Staal. Tripp was kind enough to point out the 1 time when he fell back into his usual habit of hopping out of the way of the goalie at the last second looking for a tip when screening in front of the net. He did have at least 2 other times when he correctly stayed, so just maybe we are on the right track.
–Andrej Nestrasil. He had a solid game. He was real strong with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. Perhaps that gets him ice time on a scoring line.
–Bad penalties. The Hurricanes took 3 bad penalties which is at least 2 if not 3 too many. First, Jordan Staal took the high sticking penalty to help dig an early hole. Jeff Skinner took a holding the stick penalty in the offensive zone. And Riley Nash lost track of the rules and gloved a puck back on a faceoff for a penalty.
–Jeff Skinner. He had about nothing for scoring chances early just like everyone else, but as the game wore on Skinner did find the puck on his stick a few times. I count that as a small positive because I believe that if he consistently gets chances the goals will ultimately come in streaky bunches.
–Cam Ward. He was not the problem. At the same time, I would not go overboard praising him either. It was a light night overall in terms of volume and quality of chances once Nashville dialed back the offense early and backed up a bit on the forecheck to make sure they did not aid the Canes offense.
Most interesting tomorrow will be an update on James Wisniewski’s injury and a check on where Bill Peters’ head is with regard to line combinations.
I am on record on Twitter as saying that if Wisniewski is out for an extended period of time, that I would consider recalling Brett Pesce and putting him in the slot. It is an incredibly small sample size of 1 preseason game, but he looked comfortable and good next to Liles in 1 preseason game against NHL competition. If a long-term replacement is needed, I would call him up and let him go game to game until something says he is not ready.
Next up is a potentially newsworthy practice day and then the home opener on Saturday versus Detroit.