Canes look rusty in season-opening loss to Panthers

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FSN CAROLINAS (TV)—We waited through a four-month lockout for this?

The Carolina Hurricanes opened the shortened 2013 season with a whimper, surrendering four first-period goals in a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers. Mercifully, this was Florida’s home opener, so Canes fans didn’t have to pay for tickets to see their team’s meager display.

Eric Staal was rusty in a 5-1 season-opening loss in Florida.
Caniacs do have to dish out cash for Carolina’s home opener on Tuesday, as the Tampa Bay Lightning visit Raleigh. Tampa hung six goals on the Washington Capitals in their opening victory Saturday night. The lesson: there are no easy games.

Jonathan Huberdeau, playing in his first NHL game, scored in the opening minutes of the game, notching two assists before it was done. Brian Campbell put a puck over each of Cam Ward’s shoulders and Alexei Kovalev—the 39-year-old Russian whom many figured was out of hockey—added a goal and two assists.

Patrick Dwyer had the Canes’ sole tally. Cam Ward lasted a period. Dan Ellis replaced him after the first intermission and surrendered only Kovalev’s trickster goal.

Anyone who took chemistry in high school knows that sometimes, when you pour the chemicals together, nothing happens. That was the case for Canes coach Kirk Muller’s line combinations on Saturday night. Instead of assembling two lines entirely of high-end talent, he mixed one green winger in with two veteran stars on the top two lines. It didn’t really work.

Zack Boychuk started with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin, who was held scoreless in his first game as a Hurricane. Zac Dalpe played with Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. Drayson Bowman stood out as one of the better Canes on a fourth line with Tim Brent and Patrick Dwyer.

You can understand Muller’s logic. Guys like Boychuk, Dalpe and Bowman have been playing for the AHL Charlotte Checkers for months, so they should be in midseason form. Add that jump to your big talent and maybe you get great results.

Instead, the young guys looked nervous early and the Canes were badly out-skated and out-hit throughout the opening frame. Right after the Panthers’ first goal, Semin did the dirty work and picked a puck out of a scrum along the boards, feeding an open Boychuk at the side of the goal for a probable tip-in. But, unchecked, Boychuk fell down and the puck slid into the corner.

Then Staal won the corner battle and fed a circling Boychuk for a one-time shot from the dot but the young winger shanked it.

When training camp started six days ago, Tlusty was in Bowman’s place on that line, and Chad LaRose took Jordan Staal’s wing instead of Dalpe. Not that these changes would have made a difference on this night, when the Panthers brought their A-game from the opening puck drop.

Huberdeau banged in a great feed from behind the net from Peter Mueller to open the scoring not four minute into the game. Bobby Sanguinetti, another of the Checkers Muller hoped would charge the Canes lineup, was a spectator on the play. Not knowing which of the Panthers to defend, he chose to defend none of them.

The Canes then began taking penalties, allowing Campbell to take over.

With Joe Corvo off for a cross check, Campbell collected a loose puck high in the zone after Eric Staal failed to clear the puck up the boards. Seeing Campbell with such time and space, Ward scooted back into the goal a bit and Campbell zipped the puck over Ward’s left shoulder and in.

Down only 2-0, the Canes summoned some spunk but either couldn’t finish chances or were stopped by Jose Theodore’s goaltending. Skinner barged into the slot with the best opportunity but couldn’t get a good shot off in traffic. Theodore had 41 saves on the night.

Ten minutes later, with Florida on a two-man advantage, Campbell sniped an identical wrister over Ward’s right shoulder. Scottie Upshall made it 4-0 within a half minute to cap the period.

If the game was not in the books at that point, it certainly was when Kovalev banked a puck in off Dan Ellis’ backside just 3:35 into the second period.

Dwyer’s goal came when Joni Pitkanen’s hesitation drew the defense out enough to open a passing lane to the crease. Dwyer deflected the puck behind Theodore to keep the game from being a shutout.

Pitkanen was one of the veterans who looked good on the night, along with Jordan Staal and Dwyer. After a shaky start, both Dalpe and Bowman also played well. While the game was still close, Bowman took an inspired rush down the wing, shooting and then getting his rebound, but Theodore held to his post.

Ward looked to be one gear footslow. While it’s hard to imagine many goalies snaring either of Campbell’s shots, Ward seemed unsure about how aggressive to be, staying lower in his crease than usual.

Eric Staal and Skinner both seemed to be thinking the game rather than feeling it. Hopefully the shock of such a decisive loss on opening night will knock the rust off the Canes before they play at home Tuesday night.

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