With NHL trade deadline looming, Hurricanes blow big lead, fall to Jets at home

The long wait begins.

After a less-than-favorable result Saturday — a 5-3 Carolina Hurricanes loss to the Winnipeg Jets at PNC Arena in a game the Canes led 3-0 after two periods — Canes players will have plenty to stew over during an abnormally long four-day March break, and not just from this result. Friday marks the NHL’s trade deadline.

Though the Hurricanes next play Thursday — at home against the Montreal Canadiens — Friday is the last day of one of the league’s “silly seasons,” when team building and the anticipation of player movement reached a fever pitch.

Given its status as a Stanley Cup contender, its recent injury history at the goalie position, and that it has nine players on the roster who will be unrestricted free agents this summer (and three more restricted), Carolina has been the subject of a variety of trade speculation and leaked potential deals in the past month.

In an interview with the News & Observer this past week, Hurricanes President and GM Don Waddell said he didn’t envision the team making a “big splash.”

“If there’s someone we could add who could fit that top 9 (forwards), we certainly will look at it,” Waddell said, “but our guys have done a pretty good job all year for us. I’m not envisioning anything major happening.”

That won’t stop the rumor mill from churning, nor will it stop Canes players from being mentioned — many times by the team’s own fan base — as trade chips in what some believe are potential moves that could “improve” the team.

If that’s been on any of the players’ minds, they’ve mostly done well to not let it show: The Hurricanes have the best points percentage in the NHL since Dec. 12, posting a 22-7-5 record, and many of the team’s players most likely to be affected by any movement have performed well.

Brady Skjei, one of four defenders on an expiring contract, had a goal and an assist and was a plus-4 against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. Saturday, he added a shot and played steady defense.

Teuvo Teravainen, one of four UFA forwards on the roster, extended his point streak to four games with a goal in the second period, his 19th of the season.

Stefan Noesen had the game-winning goal against Minnesota on Tuesday and an assist Saturday; Brett Pesce launched nine shots on net in the three games leading into Saturday; and Martin Necas had five goals and six assists and was a plus-4 in 12 games in February before adding another goal Saturday, also his 19th of the year.

Strength meets strength

Prior to Saturday’s meeting the Hurricanes and Jets were two of the hottest teams in the NHL. In addition to the Canes leading the NHL in overall points percentage since Dec. 12, Winnipeg is fourth in that same span at 22-8-3.

One of the overriding themes of those suggesting the Canes need to make a move this week is a lack of offensive grit, and offensive production in tight games against contending teams. Winnipeg certainly fit the bill as a contending team. The Jets began Saturday second in the Central Division with 79 points, two back of the Dallas Stars, but with four games in hand.

Saturday, the Jets weathered early Hurricanes pressure — the Canes outshot the Jets 8-2 early in the first period — and balanced out the attack in the latter part of the opening frame. Both Connor Hellebuyck, who won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top keeper in 2020 and has been a finalist three times, and rookie Pyotr Kochetkov made timely saves early.

Hellebuyck wilted late in the second period as the Canes kept the pressure on. The Canes scored first on Necas’ goal, after Winnipeg defender Dylan Samberg backed way off the Czech winger on a 2-on-1 and let the slick skater pick his corner.

They added another after a fantastic individual effort from Sebastian Aho to battle through a check at the blue line, creating a 2-on-1 with Teravainen, who buried his chance.

Aho added his own goal, No. 24 on the season, in the closing minute of the second, finishing a power play chance with help from Andrei Svechnikov and Michael Bunting.

The Jets owned the first part of the third period, though. Kyle Connor opened the frame with a goal at 1:36, former Hurricane Nino Niederreiter added another at 3:02, and Mark Scheifele converted on the power play at 5:40 to even the game at 3-3.

Sean Monahan then provided the Jets’ winner with 3:13 to play, winning a race to the puck with defender Jalen Chatfield and Kochetkov. Niederreiter added an empty-netter to complete the scoring.

Rookie honors for Kochetkov

In eight February starts, the Hurricanes’ rookie goalie was 5-3 with a sparkling 1.71 goals-against average, a .940 save percentage and two shutouts, which earned Kochetkov the NHL’s Rookie of the Month honor.

Since Dec. 12, Kochetkov was 12-4-2 in 19 appearances prior to Saturday and was among the NHL’s top five in both goals against (1.91) and save percentage (.930).

In his first start of March, Kochetkov again looked unbeatable in the first two periods, turning back all 21 shots he faced while the Canes skated to a 3-0 lead. After a soft, long-distance shot snuck through early in the third, the young Russian looked less sure of himself for a few minutes, and that’s all it took for the Jets to creep back into the game, tying the score just minutes later.

Kochetkov is, of course, part of a bigger goaltending picture in Carolina that has been a talking point all season, between long-term injuries to Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta, to the group’s collective terrible start to the season.

Waddell indicated to the News & Observer earlier this week that one of the team’s four goalies — once they’re all healthy — could be moved to create additional salary cap space, if needed, leading up to the deadline.

“But we’re not giving anybody away,” Waddell told the N&O. “Depth at that position is kind of critical for us. But if there’s a deal that makes some sense and we have four healthy guys, we’ll probably have to look at that.”

Mr. 300, and other milestones

Svechnikov reached a career milestone Saturday when he earned the second assist on Teravainen’s second-period goal.

That assist marked Svechnikov’s 300th NHL point, all with the Hurricanes, and was his sixth point in eight games. He added No. 301 with an assist on Aho’s power-play goal later in the second.

Meanwhile, three other Hurricanes hit career milestones on the team’s recent three-game road trip. Jack Drury played in his 100th NHL game — all with Carolina — on Thursday in Columbus; Teravainen’s assist in Minnesota on Tuesday marked his 400th point with Carolina; and Canes captain Jordan Staal played in his 800th game with the team in the game at Buffalo on Feb. 25.