RALEIGH — That could’ve gone better.
In their first game back from their lengthy layoff during the All-Star break, the Carolina Hurricanes started slow, fought hard enough at some points to make it close, but then ultimately suffered a painful 4-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday.
The first period was an ordeal.
For about three minutes, the play was relatively even. Sloppy, but even. Just before the four minute mark, Vegas grabbed control of the game thanks to a defensive breakdown. Ryan Dzingel lost his man and left Jake Gardiner all alone in front, trying to defend both Reilly Smith and Paul Stastny. Stastny scored off of a pass from Smith on the play, and the Golden Knights took an early 1-0 lead.
The opening frame slipped further and further away from the Hurricanes. They just weren’t ready whatsoever, and they had a very difficult time even breaking out of their own zone and producing any sort of offense.
A defensive mistake surrendered the game’s first goal, and a bad line change surrendered the second goal.
Haydn Fleury cleared the puck out of his own zone and skated to the bench at the end of a long shift, but his clearing attempt only made it to the center-ice line. That created an odd-man rush the other way, and Jonathan Marchessault scored short-side on Petr Mrazek on the reload to extend the Vegas lead to 2-0.
Carolina caught a series of good breaks as the first period wore on, including a shot from Max Pacioretty that rang right off the post on a Golden Knights power play.
Through twenty minutes, Vegas outshot Carolina 16-6 en route to a 2-0 lead.
Signs of life weren’t promising for the Canes in the first minute of period two. Warren Foegele got whistled for high-sticking in the neutral zone and put Carolina behind the eight-ball right away.
The Hurricanes killed the penalty, though, and they started to slowly build their game from their own end, out.
The desperation seemed to be more present in the second period, as well, and they were rewarded with their first goal of the game just under halfway through regulation.
Teuvo Teravainen entered the offensive zone with poise, dropped the puck back to Jaccob Slavin, went right to the front of the net, and found the back of the net after Slavin’s shot went wide and eventually bounced back to the stick of Teravainen.
The second period featured a much more competitive effort from the Hurricanes, and they managed to cut the Golden Knights lead in half entering the third period.
About that third period... it was an adventure.
Vegas started to accumulate more scoring chances than they had in the previous frame, but Mrazek made a number of big saves to keep the score within just a goal.
That changed at the 12:09 mark. Vegas extended their lead back to two goals thanks to a series of mistakes through the neutral zone by Carolina, started by a mistake from Joel Edmundson after a Jordan Martinook offensive zone face-off win.
Nate Schmidt grabbed the puck in the Vegas zone and transitioned through the neutral zone before beating the Carolina back-checkers to the net and making it a 3-1 hockey game.
That felt like a back-breaking goal at the time for the Hurricanes. It felt like that for every bit of the 16 seconds that passed before the Canes answered with a goal of their own.
Fleury made a great play through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone, dropped a pass off of a Vegas defender and onto the stick of Brock McGinn. McGinn rifled a choppy puck up and over the shoulder of Malcolm Subban to make it 3-2.
The push continued for the Hurricanes in the shifts immediately following McGinn’s goal. Andrei Svechnikov tried to pull off a gorgeous drive through the Vegas defense and nearly did before Nicolas Roy had no choice but to hook him in the slot. The former Canes prospect went to the box, and that gave the home team a chance.
Off the face-off, Jaccob Slavin took a long-range slap shot, favoring the shot toward Sebastian Aho in the slot. Aho got his stick on the shot and deflected it bar-down on Subban. The crowd erupted and the game was suddenly tied with 3:38 left on the clock.
Aho was the hero of the night to that point, but just moments later, he became the goat.
Edmundson broke his stick unexpectedly, giving the Golden Knights a rush the other way. Aho tried to cover for him, but he took a hooking penalty in the process, which gave Vegas a chance to respond.
And respond they did.
Off of a face-off win, Alex Tuch drove to the net and beat Jordan Staal to the doorstep. He got his stick on a loose puck in the crease and instantly sucked all the life out of a near-sellout PNC Arena crowd with 2:28 left in the third period.
4-3 Golden Knights.
Carolina pulled the goalie and tried to tie the game yet again, but they couldn’t even manage to get the puck out from their own zone as Vegas kept pinning them down and keeping the puck deep.
The final horn sounded, and the Hurricanes were on the wrong side of the final tally.
It was a disappointing game for a lot of reasons for Rod Brind’Amour’s group, but more than anything, it was the lack of buy-in from a staggering number of players in black.
They left their goalie out to dry early and often, they didn’t have a pulse for long stretches, and they took too many shifts off. All of that, combined with the fact that they hadn’t played hockey in almost two weeks was a recipe for disaster. And while they managed to scrap their way back late in the game, their awful start and lack of energy at some important points in the game stood in the way of what could’ve been a happy return to the ice.
The Hurricanes fell to 29-19-3 with the loss. They’ll hit the ice again Sunday afternoon when they host the Vancouver Canucks.