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Hurricanes’ new faces debut at home in preseason under a brighter, shinier newcomer

There were five new faces in the Carolina Hurricanes lineup Wednesday night, making their preseason home debuts, if such a thing is worth consideration, but none were as new or as bright or as shiny as the new video board that hung over all of them, new and old, for the first time.

This was also the debut of PNC Arena’s gargantuan new scoreboard, many months in the making, which floated above them like a luminous blimp, its corners softly rounded. It was a bit of a soft opening for the new board, its vast potential barely dented. Compared to the dowdy old board, this one is exponentially more capable. Like Marty McFly getting behind the wheel of the DeLorean for the first time, it’ll take a little while to figure out what this thing can really do.

Even in this restricted state, the new board met with the approval of astute critic Petr Mrazek, who relies on scoreboards for replays of what happens at the other end of the ice: “It’s great,” the goalie said. “Couldn’t be any better.”

As this kind of gimmickry goes, PNC isn’t even ahead of the curve, merely astride it. The Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers have a new kinetic board that moves and reshapes itself like a Transformer, presumably without the intent to use Earth as the battlefield for an existential contest to decide the fate of the universe, risking all human life in the process. (Yet!)

Still, there was as much excitement about seeing this new toy as any of the new toys on the ice, especially since the second preseason game is usually limited in its capabilities, as well. Ask the veterans to get up a sweat but make it through unscathed, hope any kids with a shot at making the roster fare well against opposition made up largely of their peers, let a couple of your goalies see a few shots.

“Sometimes you get that when you dress a veteran lineup, so to speak,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

Predictably, both of the Hurricanes’ goals in this 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning came from the Charlotte-bound fourth line of Clark Bishop, Steven Lorentz and Julien Gauthier. Somewhat less predictably, the Hurricanes have yet to give up a goal in two preseason games this September or lose a preseason game in regulation in Brind’Amour’s entire coaching tenure.

That was all well and good until Erik Haula left the game with a lower-body injury. (Hold off on the ominous music; even though this was his first game action since knee surgery last November, his absence was precautionary and not knee-related, Brind’Amour said.)

Until Haula’s exit, there they all were, marinating in the glow of their massive new friend, free agents Jake Gardiner and Ryan Dzingel most prominent among them, but also trade acquisitions Haula and Gustav Forsling and new arrival (this week) Fredrik Claesson. Many of the expectations that this team can improve upon last season rest heavily on those shoulders: Gardiner on the power play, Dzingel as a finisher, Haula as the third center the Hurricanes have lacked, Claesson and Forsling for increased depth on defense.

Other than injured college free agent Chase Priskie and goalies Anton Forsberg and James Reimer, who both played Tuesday in Tampa, these are the newcomers en masse, an offseason’s worth of tweaking and retooling getting their first spin on home ice.

It won’t be until opening night that anyone really sees what they can do. The same is true of the video board, imposing as it was in its natural habitat for the first time. Preseason is always a work in progress, especially this early. This was just a glimpse, of the players, of the scoreboard: first chance to see. Everyone was saving their best for later.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
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