June 19, 2024

Goodnews: Hurricanes’ star man makes the lineup for the first time.

Jake Guentzel was in the lineup for the Carolina Hurricanes for the first time Tuesday, playing on the same line with Evgeny Kuznetsov against the New York Rangers. Who would have thought that was possible a week ago? Certainly not Kuznetsov, who smiled broadly Tuesday morning when asked about the unlikely intersection of the two highly skilled forwards, brought together by trades.

“Life is good,” he said. But not so good on the ice Tuesday night. The Rangers took a 1-0 victory over the Canes at PNC Arena behind 28 saves from goalie Igor Shesterkin, improving their Metropolitan Division lead to six points over Carolina.

Adam Fox’s goal in the first period, the puck bouncing off the skate of Canes defenseman Brady Skjei for a 1-0 lead, stood up for the Rangers (43-18-4). Fox scored with eight seconds left in the first, zipping a shot from the right circle as Skjei defended in front of goalie Pyotr Kochetkov, who made his share of high-quality saves in a tough-luck loss. Guentzel had a little more than 15 minutes of ice time playing with Kuznetsov and winger Martin Necas, the line producing six scoring chances and four high-danger chances. Kuznetsov and Guentzel had a chance to tie it for the Canes (39-20-6) in the second, Guentzel taking a pass from Kuznetsov and returning it to set up Kuznetsov for a shot in tight. But Shesterkin got a piece.

“They had probably the best chances,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Again, it’s going to take some time for them to get up to speed with what we’re doing.” In a tight-checking game with few offensive openings, Guentzel had another good look in the third but hit the side of the net.

“I just felt all right,” Guentzel said after the game. “It’s a fast game and this team plays fast and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got your top speed at all times. I’m sure each game that goes we will find more chemistry and hopefully build off it soon.” A week ago, Guentzel was with the Pittsburgh Penguins and on the mend. Guentzel had not played since taking a cross-check from defenseman Niko Mikkola of the Florida Panthers in their Feb. 14 game, injuring an oblique muscle.

After the morning skate Tuesday at PNC Arena, Guentzel said his plan for his first game was “just go play” and “keep things simple.” “Not try to think too much, just go play,” he said. “As we go here, I’ll learn and get more comfortable.” A few weeks ago, no one could predict Kuznetsov’s future. After spending a month in the NHL/NHLPA players assistance program, he was cleared to resume practice March 2 with the Washington Capitals but immediately placed on waivers by the team.

Not claimed by any other NHL team, Kuznetsov was assigned to the Hershey Bears of the AHL and was in Charlotte last Friday for a game against the Checkers when the call came – he had been traded to the Hurricanes. Kuznetsov was in the lineup for the back-to-back against New Jersey and Calgary and played his third game Tuesday. “A few weeks ago I wasn’t even skating,” he said Tuesday morning. “I was in a different place. But what I learned from that is you don’t take anything for granted. … Here I am fighting for first place in the division.”

Guentzel’s situation was far different. He’s in the last year of a contract and set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. He also was the most desirable goal-scoring forward said to be available approaching the March 8 trade deadline. “You’re not really sure where you’re going, and with everything happening at the deadline not sure what’s going to happen,” Guentzel said Tuesday. “Obviously, I came to a great team and a great spot.” And now playing on a line with Kuznetsov and Martin Necas …

“Yeah, I once called him ‘Bad Guy,’” Kuznetsov said, laughing. The Caps and Pens did have their give-no-quarter battles, he said. “On the ice there is no mercy,” Kuznetsov said of the Metro games.

While Guentzel is viewed as a sniper and pure scorer, Kuznetsov said there’s another facet of Guentzel’s game not to be overlooked. “His brain,” he said. “He played around such great players and he learned a lot. And at the same time, when the game stops after a whistle he can get rough. It doesn’t matter, his size. He competes hard and will fit in this locker room very well.”

Jake Guentzel always delivered - PensBurgh

OF NOTE:

The Rangers were without captain Jacob Trouba, out with a lower-body injury. Also missing: defenseman Matt Rempe, who was suspended for four games by the NHL on Tuesday for his elbow to the head of the Devils’ Jonas Siegenthaler in Sunday’s game. … The Canes’ Brendan Lemieux, a healthy scratch in Tuesday’s game, has signed a one-year, $775,000 contract with Carolina, saying, “I enjoy being here. I want to play in the playoffs, I want to play on a winning team. And I’ve got a coach who treats me with respect.”

 

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