RALEIGH–After traveling roughly 16,000 miles and touring four countries, the Carolina Hurricanes finally played their home opener tonight, falling to the Washington Capitals 3-0.
After beginning the season in Europe, the Hurricanes remained on the road for their first five games after they returned to North America.
Unfortunately for the sold out crowd at the RBC Center, the hometown team didn’t give the fans much to cheer about.
As tornadoes and lightning ravaged nearby towns throughout North Carolina on this warm autumn night, the Capitals created their own storm inside the RBC Center, living up to their reputation as one of the most high-powered offenses in the league.
Matt Hendricks opened up the scoring 10:47 into the first period, putting the Capitals up 1-0. John Erskine fired a shot on goal from the left point, and the rebound fell right in front of the net. Forward David Steckel attempted to gain control of the puck, and ended up forcing Carolina goaltender Cam Ward to fall to the ice. With Ward out of position, Hendricks found the puck and tapped it into the empty net for his first goal of the season.
With 7:37 remaining in the third period, Alex Ovechkin carried the puck through the neutral zone, and passed it to linemate Mike Knuble, who fired the puck on net. Nicklas Backstrom was in perfect position to knock home the rebound, putting the Capitals up 2-0.
With less than three minutes remaining in regulation, the Hurricanes went on the power play. Down two goals late in the game, Coach Paul Maurice chose to pull Ward to give the Hurricanes a 6-on-4 advantage. Unfortunately for Carolina, their plan backfired. With 1:28 remaining in the third period, Nicklas Backstrom gained control of the puck and fired it into the empty net, scoring his second goal of the night and sealing the victory for Washington.
The first star of the game was Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who stopped all 29 of Carolina’s to earn his first ever NHL shutout.
“A shutout is something that I expect out of myself,” Neuvirth said. “Most importantly, we got two points in the standings.”
While the Hurricanes sent their fans home disappointed, there were several positives from tonight that the team can build on.
Throughout the contest, the Hurricanes executed their breakouts with success. Even though the Capitals defense played a strong game, Carolina was able to enter the zone and sustain pressure on a consistent basis. Coach Maurice’s squad did an excellent job utilizing the boards to move the puck up the ice and counter Washington’s aggressive attack.
Defensively, Carolina held a potent Capitals offense in check. The Hurricane’s penalty killers played a strong game, preventing one of the most dangerous power plays in the league from converting on the man advantage.
While the Caps brought pressure on a regular basis, Ward was up to the task, stopping 32 of 34 shots. “When we did break down, Cam kept it 1-0 and kept it close,” Eric Staal said.
Even after going down 1-0, Carolina refused to let up. They continued to forecheck hard and generate quality scoring chances, despite being denied time and time again by Neuvirth. Staal was one of the best forwards for Carolina tonight, leading his team with six shots on goal.
“I felt like we were real close in a lot of areas,” Staal said. “We kept attacking and we thought it would come for us in the third period…but it wasn’t enough tonight.”
While the Hurricanes fought hard, the execution wasn’t there.
“It wasn’t a willingness or a want, it was just the bodies weren’t doing what the brain wanted them to do,” Maurice said.
The frustration the ‘Canes were facing could be felt by the atmosphere in the building. The overwhelming anticipation and excitement that the crowd of 18,680 displayed in the first period slowly transitioned into discontent and frustration as the game wore on.
While the outcome was far from what the Hurricanes had in mind for their home opener, they faced an elite team in Washington, and continued to show a high level of work ethic and tenacity throughout the contest. Considering the brutal schedule the Hurricanes have endured so far, starting the season 4-4 is not bad. Carolina will attempt to build on the positives from tonight when they visit the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Friday.