Preseason hockey began on Tuesday night, and while we shouldn’t take much stock in the results of each game, it was hard not to celebrate a Hurricanes win. The beginning of the preseason is the first indication meaningful hockey is right around the corner. If this opener was any indication, fun times are ahead.
Hockey was back at PNC Arena for the first time since May as the Canes battled the Tampa Bay Lightning. The preseason opener featured a lineup full of prospects, new signees, and players on PTOs for the Canes as Frederik Andersen started in the net. Tampa Bay countered with a solid mix of young and old players.
The game started slowly, as neither team felt the need to score in the first 15 minutes. After Brendan Perlini was called for slashing with a little over five minutes left in the period, Alex Barre-Boulet snapped a shot from between the dots that beat Andersen to break the ice. This seemed to open the dam. Eight seconds later, Jayden Halbgewachs bounced on a loose puck to tie it, and Caleb Jones gave the Canes the lead with a shot from the point two minutes later to give Carolina a 2-1 lead at the intermission.
Tampa Bay played its best period of the night in the second but could not solve Andersen. That would remain the case when Pyotr Kochetkov took over with 7:42 left. Kochetkov wasted little time joining the offense, picking up a secondary assist on Tony DeAngelo’s blast late in the period to extend the lead.
Noel Gunler added to the party with a sweet breakaway goal early in the third period. Conor Sheary got the goal back for the Bolts 78 seconds later, though it’s likely reviewed in the regular season for a potential high stick. Kieffer Bellows rounded out the scoring with a rebound marker a little over two minutes later to make it 5-2, and that’s where the night would end as the Canes opened the preseason with a decisive team victory.
There were a lot of bright spots in Tuesday’s victory. Despite the abundance of new players on the bench, this team featured some solid cohesion. All four lines had their chance to shine, with three scoring a goal and the fourth helping to set up another. The PTO line of Zach Aston-Reese, Cory Conacher, and Kieffer Bellows was very noticeable all night. Jayden Halbgewachs was a big surprise. Felix Unger Sorum didn’t shy away despite being the youngest player on the ice, picking up an assist in his preseason debut. He also earned high praise from the head coach.
The defense featured most of the veteran presence for the Canes, with Dmitry Orlov playing in his first game with the Hurricanes paired with a returning Tony DeAngelo. Outside of quarterbacking the second power play, it was a quiet night for Orlov, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The same can’t be said for DeAngelo. While he did struggle at times in the defensive zone, he’s paid to get on the scoresheet, doing so with an assist and the game-winning goal en route to being named the game’s 1st star. Dylan Coghlan stood out, playing solid defense and setting up Gunler’s breakaway goal with a beautiful stretch pass. Hopefully, this is a positive step in the right direction after being a healthy scratch for much of last season.
Goaltending in the preseason is about getting a feel for the puck again. Both Frederik Andersen and Pyotr Kochetkov saw plenty of action and played well. They finished with similar statlines, allowing a goal on 14 shots, and both made timely saves while the game was still close. It was the type of opener you’d hope for your likely Opening Night starter and the future of the franchise in the net.
It wasn’t a perfect game by the Hurricanes, but it didn’t need to be. Despite allowing the first goal, the team rebounded quickly and never released the gas pedal. The beauty of the preseason is that we won’t need to worry about this being a back-to-back. With an expanded roster for training camp, we’re bound to see many players make their preseason debut when the Canes face the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night at PNC Arena.