In spite of the 3-0 loss to the Washington Capitals, you can forgive the Carolina Hurricanes players and their fans if last night’s game caused some extra excitement at the RBC Center in Raleigh. After all, twenty days after their season began, the Hurricanes finally played their first game on home ice. Technically, they have a shootout victory over the Minnesota Wild on “home ice”, but that game was half a world away in Helsinki, Finland as part of the NHL’s Compuware Premiere Weekend.
After playing a pre-season game in St. Petersburg, Russia, and winning their overseas games against the Wild (4-3 and the 2-1 SO win), the Hurricanes embarked on the North American leg of their world tour, with stops in Ottawa, Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. The fact that the Hurricanes came home with a 4-3-0 record, ninth in the Eastern Conference and three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the division lead demonstrates a determined effort by the players on the ice, and the tremendous abilities of the coaches and training staff; keeping it all together when packing for a 15,000 mile odyssey is not an easy task. Last night’s loss to Washington dropped the Hurricanes to 4-4-0 and eleventh in the Eastern Conference.
Both goaltenders made several highlight reel saves, and while Cam Ward stopped 30 of the 32 shots that he faced, it was Michal Neuvirth’s night to shine, as he stopped all twenty-nine shots sent his way and recorded the first shutout of his career.
Perhaps it was the adjustment to life at home, but Carolina head coach Paul Maurice felt his team was a step behind throughout the game.
“They played a real good road game,” Maurice said of the Capitals. “If you play that game in the middle of the season, I might be a little bit grumpier about the effort, but I don’t think that’s what is was – I really don’t… I think that they were trying, they were saying the right things on the bench. I don’t think anything was easy for them tonight, but they stayed in the fight against a good team.”
“I just didn’t think we could do anything with the puck very easily, and it wasn’t from a lack of effort. We just looked like we were just a half step (behind), it wasn’t quite there. The bodies weren’t doing what the brain wanted them to do.”
Hurricanes captain Eric Staal discussed the loss to their Southeast Division rivals with the Carolina media after the game.
“It felt like we were real close in a lot of areas, their goalie made some good saves and we hit some posts… We tried to keep attacking… but it just wasn’t enough tonight,” said Staal.
“We thought we were going to break through with one and get this crowd going, but it was unfortunate that it didn’t happen. It took us a couple of minutes to get our legs back into it – I think for everybody it was probably a tougher game in that respect, then we’ve had all year; sometimes it’s tough coming off a road trip like that, but we were close, we just couldn’t put it in the back of the net.”
The Hurricanes must quickly refocus and prepare for another road game Friday night against the New York Rangers. The Tampa Bay Lightning players are looking to improve on last year’s performances, and despite some injuries, the Washington Capitals appear to be getting back on track. The Southeast has become one of the tougher divisions this season and Carolina must be careful not to fall out of the race too early.