Hurricanes Drop Preseason Opener to Blue Jackets

The Hurricanes dropped their preseason opener to the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday afternoon.  The final score was 4-3.  All things considered it wasn’t a bad game, and there are a few positives as well as areas of concern to ponder.

It was preseason hockey which meant that the majority of the active roster was made up of draft picks, training camp invitees, and recent acquisitions.  The “stars” for all intents and purposes were listed as scratches.  This is obviously very normal for game one of the preseason, but left me with a pretty glaring observation:  Preseason hockey is bad hockey.  Yes I am spoiled having watched nearly every minute of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that concluded only 3 months ago.  However, the images of fast, intense, crisp hockey still floating around in my head were quickly replaced with what at time resembled kids’ soccer – a lot of chasing.  The rust or inexperience or whatever is at play in an early preseason game of was evident, and it is comforting to know that this will not be the norm for the Hurricanes or the Blue Jackets.

One Positive was the Power Play – Sort of

I have written at length about the Hurricanes power play.  Everybody has.  And it was very cool to see

(Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

the first power play in the ‘Canes first game result in a goal.  Andrej Sekera smacked the puck past Blue Jackets goaltender Anton Forsberg to put the ‘Canes up 1-0 in the 1st period.  This was extremely positive for two reasons: First, it showed an aggressive, attacking effort which I have been screaming about for a long time.  Second, it put Carolina up early – another area which has been stressed as important by new Head Coach Bill Peters.  It was nice to see the team up early and being up early as the result of a great power play goal.

A couple of minutes later the Blue Jackets evened the game up when Cam Atkinson got his first of two goals in the contest.  The first period wound down with a power play goal by Nick Foligno to put the Blue Jackets up 2-1, followed by one of the worst power play efforts by the Hurricanes I have ever witnessed.  It was horrendous, with aimless passing and a consistent losing of the puck.  Thankfully the period ended to put that effort out of its misery.

Chris Terry (Ross Bonander/THW)
Chris Terry (Ross Bonander/THW)

The final goal of the game was redemption – a power play goal for the ‘Canes that was a thing of sheer beauty.  19-year old Sergey Tolchinsky made a picture-perfect pass to Chris Terry who put it perfectly in the net to make the game 4-3.  Once again, the power play was active and aggressive.  If the Hurricanes can build on this type of effort, they will do well this season.

Haydn Fleury Looked Young but not Afraid

I paid close attention to the play of Carolina’s first round draft pick, Haydn Fleury.  I wanted to see how the youngster would fare against NHL competition.  It wasn’t the greatest coming out party ever, but it certainly wasn’t the worst.  Fleury’s youth was evident, but so was his game.  I shuddered as he watched a goal zing by Cam Ward – seeming to not really be in the right position, but I also marveled as he took and gave some quality hits along the boards.

I spoke with Fleury in the locker room after the game, and asked him if the physical play was natural or if he realized he had to step up because this is the next level.  He said, “I think that’s just something I want to get better at as I get older and more mature.  I like playing with the puck and I like playing that style of game, so that’s just something for me to become a more all-around defenseman I’m going to need add that to my game and become more physical.”  I love this kid. He’s the real deal and I believe we will see him on the ice in the NHL sooner rather than later.

The overall power play and the play of youngsters Fleury and Tolchinsky notwithstanding, there were some areas of concern.  As I stated earlier there seemed to be a lot of puck chasing and missed passes everywhere. This will get worked out in training camp and in the remaining preseason games.  We hope.

What About the Goaltending?

Cam Ward started the game and played into the 2nd period.  As planned, he was replaced by Alex Nedeljkovic, who promptly gave up a goal within what seemed like seconds of his getting into the crease. He settled in and played respectably for the remainder of the game.  Ward gave up 3 goals.  Should we worry?  Coach Peters seemed to think not, saying, “I thought ‘Wardo’ was good.  On those goals we gave up, there’s nothing those goaltenders can do.  We’ve got to be better defensively.”

One game in and the goaltender battle is on.  Cam gave up 3 this afternoon, but Coach Peters is seeming to give him a pass.  What looms is this Tuesday’s preseason match versus the Buffalo Sabres.  Anton Khudobin is likely to be in-goal.  Will he give up less than 3 goals?  More than 3?  Will Coach Peters give

Khudobin Hurricanes
Last season, Anton Khudobin showed that he is not only a valuable back-up, but a goalie that could step in a be a starter for the Hurricanes if anything were to happen to Cam Ward. (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

him a pass?  The drama is mounting as to who will lead this team onto the ice on October 10th versus the New York Islanders.  Some of the fans locally have had it with Cam, calling into the ‘Canes post-game radio show with “more of the same” as their mantra.  The pressure is on Cam Ward.  We will see who convinces Coach Peters that they are the “stud” he is looking for.

So What Did We Learn?

We learned that the Hurricanes can play some nice hockey and some bad-looking hockey in the first game of the preseason.  (So can the Blue Jackets.)

We learned that the youngsters look promising. We learned that Blue Jackets’ winger Cam Atkinson is a really good.  We learned that there may actually be hope for the ‘Canes power play.  And we learned that the goalie battle is just beginning.  It should be a very entertaining preseason as we watch Ward v Khudobin unfold.  So the Hurricanes dropped their preseason opener.  But, all things considered, it was not all bad.  It’s too early to get worked up, but it’s the right time to start paying attention to how this team will come together under their new coach and new general manager.  Should be fun.