A night after beating the New York Rangers, the Carolina Hurricanes could not handle the New Jersey Devils, losing the road game 7-4 at the Prudential Center.
The Devils fell behind 2-0 in the first period and trailed 3-2 in the second, but then overwhelmed the Canes, who were playing the second game of a back-to-back set.
Five takeaways from the Metropolitan Division game:
▪ When Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour was asked Saturday about a starting goalie, he said simply, “The kid.” Meaning Jack LaFontaine.
This was why LaFontaine signed with the Canes and left the University of Minnesota this season: for an early taste of the NHL. He got a first look Jan. 13 against Columbus, relieving starter Frederik Andersen and giving up two goals in the 6-0 loss.
That was his NHL debut, but Saturday was different. He was starting his first NHL game and the Canes gave him two early goals and a 2-0 lead in the first period that Carolina could not hold. LaFontaine would allow seven goals on 38 shots in taking his first NHL loss, undone by a few bad bounces but also some well-placed shots by the Devils.
The Devils went with goalie Jon Gillies, who had some shaky moments in his fourth game of the season but earned his first win with 28 saves.
▪ Getting Martin Necas back for Saturday’s game was an unexpected twist. The Canes winger was placed in the NHL COVID protocol on Monday. There was no announcement from the team about him being cleared to return to play and he had not practiced.
But when the Canes took the ice Saturday, there was No. 88. Necas played while Teuvo Teravainen was held out following his lower-body injury Friday against the Rangers. Necas rejoined Vincent Trocheck’s line opposite Andrei Svechnikov and assisted on Ian Cole’s first-period goal.
Forward Josh Leivo, in the lineup for a second straight game, scored his first goal with the Canes with a power move in the second period for a 3-2 lead. Leivo and Svechnikov each had a goal and assist, Svechnikov ripping a sharp-angle shot past Gillies for the Canes’ first goal. Defenseman Brady Skjei also scored for Carolina in the second.
Brind’Amour indicated Saturday that Teravainen’s injury was not serious. The Canes next play Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights at PNC Arena.
▪ The Canes dominated the Boston Bruins and then outfought the New York Rangers this week, only to lose to the Devils. The Canes also have losses this season to the Seattle Kraken, Vancouver Canucks and a struggling Ottawa Senators team, plus the 6-0 beating by the Columbus Blue Jackets on their first ESPN appearance.
It’s easy to say the Canes have played up and down to the competition, and it’s not the kind of trend they want to continue. The game Saturday was the second of a back-to-back with a rookie goalie in net, but one the Canes, a good road team this season, expected to win.
▪ It was the first time this season the Canes had a back-to-back set that involved travel for the second game and was anything but routine. Snowy weather in Raleigh on Friday scratched their planned team flight and forced a Saturday departure, the Canes landing in Newark, New Jersey, a little before noon.
Brind’Amour said the travel change was “not ideal.” But in a season when the Canes have had most of the roster deal with COVID-19 — Jordan Martinook is still in the protocol — and seven games postponed, Brind’Amour said it was another example of having to expect the unexpected.
▪ No Dougie Hamilton this game. The Canes and Devils played for the first time this season and New Jersey was without the former Canes defenseman, the Devils’ biggest offseason catch after signing him to a seven-year, $63 million contract.
Hamilton suffered a broken jaw Jan. 2 when hit in the face by a puck in the game against the Washington Capitals. He required surgery and has been on injured reserve.
For those who like to compare Hamilton and Canes defenseman Tony DeAngelo, Hamilton has seven goals and 13 assists in 30 games, and DeAngelo had seven goals and 24 assists in 30 games before Saturday’s game.