The Carolina Hurricanes could have rolled out any number of excuses for their 7-4 loss Saturday to the New Jersey Devils.
There were the crazy travel problems, and flying in the day of the game. There was a rookie goalie making his first NHL start. Teuvo Teravainen didn’t play. Martin Necas did play, but was coming out of the NHL COVID protocol and had no practice time after his quarantine.
But the Canes’ Rod Brind’Amour, like many coaches, has used the expression, “the excuse jar is full.”
Saturday’s setback was a loss. On the road. In game 38 of a long season. You take a quick look back at it, and move on. In this case, the Canes will move on to an even more demanding set of games: four games in six days leading up to what would have been the league’s Olympic break, starting with a home game Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights.
“The NHL is tough,” Brind’Amour said Monday. “From the top teams to the so-called bottom teams, if you’re not 100 percent on point, it makes for a real tough night.”
Breakdowns against the Devils
So, what went wrong Saturday?
“Just little things, little details that when not done properly that’s the result you get,” defenseman Jaccob Slavin said Monday. “It’s not a lack of compete or effort or anything, but just little details being off. I know Roddy always talks about inches, and inches of the game. But little things, the little details you’re off on, leads to breakdowns.
“I mean, you play in the NHL and everyone’s skilled, so it’s typically going to end up in the back of your net. You can’t have those little breakdowns and we have to batten those up and we’ll be fine.”
Canes rookie goalie Jack LaFontaine received a pretty intense education on NHL skill and speed, too. The Devils took advantage of a few fortunate bounces and some defensive lapses by the Canes to score, but LaFontaine also gave up a few goals he’d probably like to have back.
Between the pipes
With goalie Antti Raanta back at practice Monday, and Frederik Andersen the likely starter against Vegas, Brind’Amour was asked about the plans for LaFontaine moving forward.
“We’ll see. We’ve got to get him games for sure,” Brind’Amour said. “I think (Raanta) is ready to go, so we know we’ll have to make that decision.”
Brind’Amour didn’t elaborate, but getting LaFontaine games appears to mean he’ll see some action with the Chicago Wolves, the Canes’ American Hockey League affiliate. Playing in the AHL seems like the logical next step for the former University of Minnesota star, who left school this month to sign with Carolina and has been used in two games.
Monday afternoon, the team made that move official, sending LaFontaine and defenseman Stefan Noesen to Chicago.
Returning to the lineup
Teravainen sat out the New Jersey game after sustaining a lower-body injury Friday against the New York Rangers, taking a big second-period hit from Barclay Goodrow. Teravainen returned to the game but sat out the third period, and then Saturday’s game.
Teravainen was back at practice Monday and again was on a line with Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis.
Necas, who entered the NHL protocol Jan. 17, said he had no COVID-19 symptoms last week and used a stationary bike to exercise while in quarantine. Cleared Saturday morning to play, he had 16-plus minutes in ice time and assisted on a first-period goal by Ian Cole.
“It wasn’t the easiest game for me but it was better than I expected,” Necas said Monday. “Just a tough game for us, overall.”
The Golden Knights were to play Monday in Washington against the Capitals and will be in the second game of a back-to-back Tuesday against the Canes.
Slavin expects the Canes to be back at their best. The Golden Knights lead the Pacific Division and should want to atone for a 4-2 loss to Carolina in Las Vegas on Nov. 16 — Jarvis’ third-period goal was the game-winner.
“Those games are special. A little more jam to those games,” Slavin said. “You’ve got to come prepared every night, but it you’re not prepared for those teams that are high caliber you’re in for a long night.”
Carolina Hurricanes vs Vegas Golden Knights
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh.
TV/Radio: Bally Sports South, WCMC-99.9 FM