The optimist would suggest what transpired at the Prudential Center Saturday night could make it easier for General Manager Ron Francis to dismantle a team engaged in a heated race for a top-five pick in June’s NHL entry draft.
So, too, would the pessimist.
With the NHL trade deadline nine days away, the Carolina Hurricanes were dominated in every facet by the New Jersey Devils en route to a 3-1 loss. The Hurricanes fell to 21-30-7 and have 24 games remaining this season.
“It’s tough,” said Jeff Skinner when asked about the difficulty of convincing management to keep this group together following a loss in which the Hurricanes were decidedly outclassed.
“Guys are old enough, mature enough to know it’s their job. That sort of stuff will sort itself out. Not really much we can do in here to make those decisions, so we have to go out there and try to win. I think everyone wants to win and wants to compete. Just didn’t do a good enough job tonight.”
If there is a positive in losing, it is that the Hurricanes still have two fewer points than free-falling Toronto for the fourth worst record in the league despite having played two fewer games. Potentially, that could benefit the Hurricanes because, according to SportsClubStats.com, the team currently possesses a 59 percent chance of landing the second overall pick in June’s Entry Draft, which would put them in position to draft Boston University freshman center Jack Eichel.
But that is in the future. The present saw a team that, for all intents and purposes, ceded two points to a less-than-imposing opponent in the opening 20 minutes. At the first intermission, the Hurricanes trailed 3-0.
It wasn’t so much that the Hurricanes trailed, but how they found themselves down that was troubling.
Following an extended sequence in which the Devils’ pressure caused the Hurricanes to be unable to clear the defensive zone, Tuomo Ruutu tipped Adam Larsson’s slap shot past Anton Khudobin to open the scoring 10 minutes, 32 seconds into the game. Adam Henrique’s semi-breakaway snapshot beat Khudobin 1:33 later to extend New Jersey’s lead to 2-0.
Khudobin finished with 16 saves.
Even thought the Hurricanes outshot (32-19) and outattempted (49-30) New Jersey, the majority of chances were harmless. Perhaps their best chance was Alex Semin’s which drive hit the cross bar with 2:46 left in the first, and the Devils made the Hurricanes pay when Andy Greene tapped in Jordin Tootoo’s centering feed with 27.1 seconds left in the period.
“We gave up too many chances throughout the game,” Bill Peters said. “Just too loose.
“We need a good practice. For Monday, we’ll see who can compete in practice and we’ll make a lineup for [Tuesday’s home game against the Flyers],” Peters said, before stating unequivocally that the Hurricanes’ compete level was “not to the level we need to compete to win. Not to the level we expect.”
New Jersey starter Keith Kinkaid stopped all 17 shots he faced in 33:59 of ice time spanning the first and second periods before leaving the game with an injury following a save on Eric Staal. Cory Schneider made 14 saves in relief, yielding just Skinner’s 14th goal of the season with 6:04 left in the third.
Defenseman Michal Jordan was called up from AHL Charlotte on Saturday morning, and was partnered with John Michael-Liles. Patrick Dwyer was reinserted into the lineup, on a line with Andrej Nestrasil and Jay McClement. Tim Gleason, Brad Malone and Chris Terry were scratched.
Teams who requested seats in the press box for their scouts were Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Nashville, Buffalo, Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and Arizona. Both the Hurricanes [Andrej Sekera, Jiri Tlusty] and Devils [Jaromir Jagr] have players who it is believed will be moved to Stanley Cup Playoff-contending teams on or before the March 2 trade deadline.
The Metropolitan Division rivals will conclude the season series Mar. 28 at PNC Arena. The Hurricanes are 1-2 against New Jersey this season.