6 NHL Players Who Struggled on Opening Day

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2013

6 NHL Players Who Struggled on Opening Day

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    After a disheartening four-month lockout, the depression is gone and NHL hockey is being served on a platter to hungry fans.

    The opening night of games saw 26 teams attempt to shake off the rust, get their legs going and put their skills on display.

    Teams like the St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks got off to thrilling starts over big-name opponents.

    However, a number of teams and individuals got off to tough starts.

    In some cases, a bad game is just that, and it doesn't necessarily mean a slump will follow. But in a season where there has been very little preparation, it could be more difficult to turn things around.

    Here's a look at six players who struggled on the first day of the season.

D Marc Staal, New York Rangers

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    The New York Rangers are counting on Marc Staal to be one of their most important defensemen this season.

    Staal has the physical characteristics to be a dominant player. At 6'4" and 208 pounds, he has the size to pound opposing forwards and skills to take the puck away and start offensive forays for the Rangers.

    Staal was not at his best in the Rangers' season-opening 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. Staal was on the ice for each of the Bruins' goals and finished minus-3 for the night.

    Staal is an extremely athletic player, and it seems unlikely he'll soon have a similar performance.

G Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

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    Braden Holtby was a star for the Washington Capitals in last year's postseason.

    He backstopped the Capitals to a seventh-game triumph over the Boston Bruins in the opening round and then pushed Washington to the seventh game against the New York Rangers before bowing out.

    After playing like a stud in the playoffs, Holtby played like a dud against the Tampa Bay Lightning. After his Capitals teammates fired the first seven shots of the game at Lightning goalie Anders Lindback, Holtby let a goal in on the first shot he faced.

    Holtby could not handle Eric Brewer's long wrist shot.

    Holtby let in six goals on 28 shots.

C Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Jordan Staal had to be amped up for his first regular season game with the Carolina Hurricanes.

    Staal earned a reputation as a solid all-around player in six years with the Pittsburgh Penguins and he was thrilled when the Penguins traded him to the Hurricanes last June so he would have the chance to play with his brother Eric Staal.

    The first game didn't go well for Jordan Staal or the Hurricanes. In addition to dropping a 5-1 decision to the Florida Panthers, Staal was minus-2 in the game, and his only two shots on goal came in the third period, when the game was out of reach.

G Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes

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    The Carolina Hurricanes are expected to be a serious contender for an Eastern Conference playoff spot this season.

    They played well in the second half of the season last year, and general manager Jim Rutherford and head coach Kirk Muller are expecting a fast start this year.

    Much of that will be dependent on goalie Cam Ward. He failed to get off to a fast start in the season opener. Ward was leaking goals in the first period, giving up four goals on the eight shots he faced.

    Muller pulled him in favor of Dan Ellis. Ward can't have many more sieve-like nights if the Hurricanes are going to threaten anyone in the East.

D Kevin Bieksa, Vancouver Canucks

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    If the Vancouver Canucks are going to continue to be one of the premier teams in the NHL, they need consistent performances from their defense.

    Kevin Bieksa is the face of the Vancouver defense. He is tough, hard-nosed and wiling to take an elbow so he can make a play that will prevent a goal against his team.

    In the Canucks' season-opening 7-3 home loss to the Anaheim Ducks, Bieksa was just another guy who finished minus-1 on the night. On Corey Perry's goal for the Ducks, Bieksa was just waltzing after the Canucks lost the faceoff and he did little to help defense partner Dan Hamhuis.

G Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks

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    Cory Schneider is the Vancouver Canucks' No. 1 goalie.

    He supplanted Roberto Luongo at the end of last season, and the Canucks have had Luongo on the trade market for months.

    So what did Schneider do with his opportunity on the opening night of the season? He choked badly.

    Schneider looked off-balance as he gave up five goals on 14 shots and was pulled in favor of Luongo.

    Schneider has time to turn things around, but it was a rough night for a player who is facing significant pressure.