Lightning Strike Down ‘Canes in Opener

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Carolina Hurricanes fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night by the score of 5-1 to open the 2011-12 season. Jeff Skinner had Carolina’s lone goal in the loss.

Almost six months after the Lightning eliminated the Hurricanes from playoff contention, Carolina sought revenge from their division rival. Unfortunately for the Canes and the sold-out crowd at the RBC Center, the Lightning proved to be too much to handle. The Canes surrendered the lead 17:50 into the second period when Vincent Lecavalier buried a goal on a 5-on-3 power-play, and the Lightning never looked back.

“I liked a lot of the 5-on-5 game,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “But penalties kill you, and against that team you have to stay out of the box.”

Jeff Skinner opened up the scoring by burying a rebound on the left doorstep 8:07 into the first period. Skinner initially created the scoring chance by stealing the puck from Matt Gilroy, driving to the net and drawing a penalty. Many are questioning if he can put up similar numbers as he did in his rookie campaign, but it seems as if last year’s Calder Trophy winner has picked up right where he left off. Skinner was the best and most consistent forward for the Hurricanes on Friday, and it’s clear he is capable of avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump.

Following Skinner’s goal, the Canes dominated play for the remainder of the first period, they just couldn’t beat goaltender Dwayne Roloson again. In the end, Friday’s loss boils down to Carolina’s inability to take advantage of all their early momentum. Part of the credit goes to Tampa, but the Hurricanes should have been able to pad their lead given the amount of quality scoring chances they had in the first 20 minutes.

The Lightning, on the other hand, were able to execute as the game wore on. They scored twice on the power-play, and put the game out of reach with two goals 10 seconds apart late in the game.

“We had some chances, you know, to score that second goal, but you can’t score from every chance,” said Tuomo Ruutu. “So yeah, we were frustrated.”

Many of the issues that plagued Carolina last season continued to be a crutch. Scoring just one power-play goal in preseason, Carolina went 0-5 on the man-advantage on Friday. After finishing dead last in the NHL in face-off percentage in the 2010-11 season, they were a mere 46% in the circle against Tampa. If the Canes want to make a push towards the playoffs this year, these recurring problems need to be fixed.

Rookie Justin Faulk made his NHL debut on Friday, and despite some pre-game jitters, played a solid game. The 19-year-old didn’t seem fazed by the big stage, and even though he admitted to being nervous, it wasn’t evident in his play. Faulk did have a few rookie moments, including a bad interference penalty that led to a power-play goal for Tampa, but that is to be expected. There’s no doubt the kid will experience a few growing pains, but his demenor both on the ice and in the locker room following the game was encouraging.

“I think definitely taking a hit or getting hit early on calms some nerves out there,” he said. “That’s how I play; I like to engage in physical contact. I felt like I got better as it went on. The third was definitely my best period. Obviously when you’re taking penalties it’s not a good thing. Obviously you go out there and try and stay out of the box as much as you can.”

“I thought he was fine positionally and did a lot of good things,” Maurice said about Faulk. “There were some bobbles, but for his first game he played pretty darn well.”

Once again, Carolina was unable to play a complete game, allowing three goals in the last 7:48 minutes of play.

“It’s all about effort,” said Jay Harrison. “We need to step things up.”

The Hurricanes return to action Saturday night in Washington when they take on Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.

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