Carolina Hurricanes fans were treated Thursday night to their team being “on their heels” early. Is this code for last year’s mantra, “we didn’t start on time?” The first period of their opening night 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators was horrendous. It was disappointing to say the least, particularly in light of how well they had played in the preseason.
It was so bad that I received a message after the first period from a fan who was astonished that “they looked like five-year old kids chasing the puck around.” I had not quite gotten to that level of characterization, but unfortunately it was pretty accurate. For a team that looked so crisp and ready a week ago, Thursday night’s first period was absolutely frightening.
The guys I was with watching the game were shaking their heads. One said to me, “Well you have a title for your article, ‘Picking up Where They Left off Last Year.'” I pondered that and thought to myself that I did not really want to write something like that. It’s very frustrating.
Then I saw Coach Bill Peters’ comments and realized that last night’s first period was really an extension of last season. Peters said after the game,
“We were on our heels a little bit early for whatever reason. They were all over us.”
There it is, code for last year’s post-game mantra, “We didn’t start on time.” Unbelievable.
I wrote a lot last season about the many times I heard how the team said it did not start on time or they didn’t have a lot of energy at the beginning of games. So much so that at the end of the season I asked a bunch of the players during their end of season interviews exactly how a group of professional athletes can “not start on time.” (You can read the entire article and see their answers here).
The consistent answer I got was that it’s a mental thing, a state of preparedness. I get that. What I don’t get is how that can be something lacking throughout a season. And last night’s first period demonstrated that it has not gone away. There is something just not right for a team to come out flat more times than not. These guys hopefully will check their heads and hearts and come to the ice ready to play each and every night. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very long season.
To their credit, the Hurricanes did get into the game in the second and third periods. Cam Ward played well after giving up two deflected goals in the first, and the team was doing much better on the forecheck. Team captain Eric Staal stated as much:
“As the game went on, we got better. Our puck movement was a little stronger, especially in the second period. We got on the forecheck and started turning pucks over a little more and creating a little more offensively. I thought we attacked pretty hard in the second and third.”
I give the team credit for playing hard in the second and third periods. But, you can’t go to Nashville and give Pekka Rinne a two-goal lead in the first. He’s too good to try to play catch-up hockey with. Not to mention the likes of Shea Weber and a Predators defense that is very good.
The Hurricanes play their home opener on October 10th. Here’s hoping that they will come out against a very good Detroit Red Wings team and play hard from the beginning. And please no more, “We didn’t start on time” or “We were on our heels.”
They’re selling standing room only tickets at Raleigh’s PNC Arena. The fans will be there, let’s hope the team’s heart will be, too.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.