A new season means a new sense of optimism for many teams and you want to at least put together a strong performance to start the year even if you don't win. The Carolina Hurricanes did this...for about half of the game and then a complete meltdown occurred and ended up getting blown out on opening night. It's disappointing but brighter days are ahead and there were a few positives that you could drag out from this game, as odd as it sounds.
The Canes were the better team for the first 20 minutes tonight as they really had their legs going, kept the Lightning pinned in their own zone for most of the period. They outshot them 16-12 and took the lead 8:07 into the game with a goal from Jeff Skinner. The play started when he forced a turnover in the neutral zone, got the puck back to Tim Gleason on the point who was able to get a shot on net and Skinner quickly put in the rebound. The Canes continued to put pressure on the Lightning for the rest of the period and most of the second until Chad LaRose misplayed a puck in the neutral zone, which led to a turnover and Tampa Bay soon capitalized on it when Martin St. Louis scored on a rebound after the Canes failed to clear the puck multiple times in their own zone.
Things took a turn for the worst when rookie defenseman Justin Faulk took a bad interference penalty in the second period and it was followed by Jussi Jokinen taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after which put the Canes on a 5-on-3 and as you colud probably guess, Tampa Bay scored quickly on it. Things just snowballed after that. Tampa Bay completely shutdown Carolina in the transition game, bottled them up in the neutral zone and continued to build on their lead after baiting Carolina into taking multiple penalties. Once the Lightning scored twice in ten seconds, you could tell that it was pretty much over.
Carolina completely let their foot off the gas after falling down 3-1 and paid the price, which is going to kill you against a team like Tampa Bay who plays in a system that thrives on other team's mistakes. If Carolina plays like they did for the first 20-30 minutes in this game, they have a better chance at winning but they didn't and you can chalk it up to a lack of effort and a lot of missed opportunities. Just be thankful there are still 81 games left on the schedule and I'm sure Carolina will turn in better performances than this later in the year.
- Jeff Skinner was Carolina's best player tonight by a longshot. He was all over the ice doing whatever he could to create chances and get Carolina back into this game. He was placed on Staal's line for this game but he certainly didn't need to rely on Staal too much to create plays. Carolina's only goal was due to him forcing a turnover in the neutral zone and he was constantly doing everything he could to put pressure on Tampa Bay. I'd go as far to say that he was the driving force on this line and not Eric Staal (although he had a pretty good game too).
- Justin Faulk's first NHL game was a rough one. He took a couple of pretty bad penalties and was caught out of position on Adam Hall's breakaway goal. He'll improve with time, though and it's too early to jump on the "Send him back to Charlotte" bandwagon.
- When I said that missed opportunities were a reason Carolina lost, it was basically another way of saying the powerplay was lousy. They had five PP opportunities tonight, didn't score on any of them and generated a whopping three shots on net. Compare that to the Lightning's two powerplay goals and seven shots on net then it should be easy to see why Carolina lost this game. I also don't know what the point was of having Jay Harrison on the second powerplay unit. I think we'd be better off putting a forward on the point there.
- On the other special teams side, I thought the penalty kill was pretty solid even though they gave up two goals. The first one was a 5-on-3 and the other was off a weird looking rebound. Tim Brent, Brandon Sutter and Patrick Dwyer were very solid on the PK tonight and I'm glad that these three logged a lot of minutes there instead of LaRose and Staal.
- I'm not one to say that things need to be shaken up after one game but I honestly do not know why Paul Maurice thinks that Jiri Tlustly should play on Jussi Jokinen and Chad LaRose's line. He has little offensive upside and isn't that good defensively either so I'm not sure what he brings there. Let Zac Dalpe play there instead of on the fourth line so he can get some more experience.
- The first line was very good tonight at even strength but the rest of the lineup was pretty invisible in my opinion. Hoping that some other players can step it up but the lines definitley need to be chagned a bit for that to happen.
- Tough to say who was the best defenseman for Carolina but I thought Tim Gleason and Joni Pitkanen did a pretty good job of keeping Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis in check for most of the game. Pitkanen logged more minutes than any other Hurricane tonight and had a nice play to stop a breakaway from Stamkos. Gleason had a good night at even strength but he was on-ice for both of the Lightning's powerplay goals.
- Have to give credit where it's due and say that the Lightning played a pretty solid game overall and showed a real killer instinct towards the end. Eric Brewer and Victor Hedman made sure that Skinner's line didn't have much room to work with at all after they took the lead and they didn't look back.
- Ward played a good game overall despite giving up five goals but there wasn't much he could do about any of them aside from maybe the second powerplay goal. Roloson was good at the other end but he didn't need to go out of his way to make that many big saves.
- Good night at the face-off dot for anyone not named Eric Staal (6/22) or Jussi Jokinen (5/12). There's that.
There's definitely some positives you can draw out of this game despite the 5-1 loss but the fact that the team just seemed to stop trying after falling down two goals is a huge cause for concern and with a high-powered Capitals offense next on the schedule, they can't afford to turn in another performance like that if they don't want a repeat of tonight. I'll have the scoring chances next.
1. Martin St. Louis
2. Jeff Skinner
3. Steven Stamkos