Welcome to the home stretch of the 2019-20 NHL regular season.
Oh... Oh, no...
The Carolina Hurricanes kicked off the post-trade deadline portion of their schedule on Tuesday night when they welcomed the Dallas Stars to PNC Arena. The Stars, who beat the Hurricanes in Texas two weeks ago, overstayed their welcome, though.
Rick Bowness’ club duplicated that February 11 score, getting pucks by Alex Nedeljkovic in the early going before locking things down late in the game.
Not even a minute into the first period, the anxiety started to ratchet up.
Sebastian Aho dropped a pass around the boards to newly acquired defenseman Brady Skjei. On what looked like an easy play, Skjei couldn’t corral the puck and the quick counter from Dallas resulted in Tyler Seguin putting his own point-blank rebound by Nedeljkovic. 52 seconds into the game, it was 1-0.
Outside of that early gaffe, it was a dominant start from the Hurricanes, as new guys Vincent Trocheck and Skjei started to settle down and work themselves into the fray.
With Martin Necas and Nino Niederreiter on his wings, Trocheck seemed to get going pretty quickly, and he had a couple of very good scoring opportunities as Carolina tried to push back and get on the scoreboard.
They couldn’t break through, though, and their inability to beat former Cane Anton Khudobin ended up being part of their demise.
On a late first-period Dallas power play, Denis Gurianov hit Roope Hintz on a stretch pass. Charging in on a 1-on-2 entering the zone, Hintz walked Joel Edmundson and got a chip shot away before Haydn Fleury could get his stick to him. The chip went up and over the shoulder of Nedeljkovic and doubled the Stars’ lead.
The Hurricanes desperately needed to escape the first period within two goals, so naturally, the Stars scored again with 51 seconds left in the frame.
Edmundson tried to pinch after a Canes offensive zone face off win, and he got left in the dust as the Stars ran away on a 3-on-1 rush. Fleury helped force the shot attempt go wide, but the puck directed off of the glass, right back in front of the net, and Edmundson couldn’t make up for his original mistake as the puck bounced by him and onto the stick of Jason Dickinson, who sent it top shelf by Nedeljkovic and made it a 3-0 hockey game.
The Hurricanes played well in the first period, but some extremely dramatic mistakes were made and that made the difference both in the first frame and in the game, as a whole.
Despite mounting up more scoring chances in the second period, Carolina rendered just one goal, and it came from a very familiar face in the early minutes of the frame.
Jaccob Slavin centered a puck to Sebastian Aho to the right of Khudobin, and Aho managed to sneak the short-angled chance just inside the post to extend his point streak to a career-high 13 games. His 36th goal of the season got the Canes on the scoreboard.
The second period was where one new player really started to show why he was acquired - that player was Skjei. Paired with Slavin, Skjei was absolutely flying as the game progressed, and very nearly scored on three occasions.
The first chance came on an odd-man rush where he jumped in as the center-lane driver. He got the centering pass and just missed on a backhand opportunity from just outside the crease. Moments later, he had another chance that was snuffed out by Khudobin.
On a shorthanded sequence several minutes later, he aggressively jumped into a rush the other direction and tried to put one through the legs of Khudobin, but to no avail.
The acquisition of the Rangers blueliner was more questioned than either of the Hurricanes’ other additions, but there were real moments of brilliance from him in his debut that should quiet down some of those concerns, at least for right now. After his early mistake, which could’ve easily been early nerves getting the best of him, he settled in well.
Missed opportunities ended up being the club’s downfall, and the game was effectively put away by the Stars just over halfway through period two.
Nedeljkovic tried to rim a puck around the boards, but it was knocked down by Dickinson and eventually centered right back in front to Gurianov, who beat Edmundson to the net and reestablished Dallas’ three-goal cushion.
A late-period power play for Dallas saw Carolina put together a very strong kill, but that didn’t do much to ease the pain of a 4-1 hockey games through forty minutes.
The third period felt like a bit of a throwaway. The Stars parked the bus and just continually cleared the puck back behind Nedeljkovic. They had just one shot on goal to Carolina’s 19.
In reality, many of those shots were of the low quality variety. The Stars took two minor penalties in the final ten minutes, but the Hurricanes’ power play didn’t have much of anything to offer, outside of two shattered hockey sticks thanks to Andrei Svechnikov (he broke two sticks via big slap shot attempts in the course of about 15 seconds).
There a couple of good chances, but Khudobin was just rock solid, forcing his former team to go away quietly into the night.
For the second time in as many weeks, the Hurricanes were bested by the Stars by a final score of 4-1.
The effort from Rod Brind’Amour’s group was inarguably better the second time around, but some brutal mistakes from the pairing of Fleury and Edmundson led to some absurdly dangerous shot on Nedeljkovic, who wasn’t able to come up with game-changing saves in his second NHL start.
With the loss, the Hurricanes fell to 35-23-4 on the season and 19-11-2 on home ice. They are two points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but they also have two games in hand.
Fortunately for the Canes, they will be staying put in Raleigh over the next few days before hosting the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night. That, in theory, should give them an opportunity to work on some of the things that ailed them on Tuesday and continue to work new faces into the equation.