Analysis from Columbus
→ The Carolina Hurricanes saw their four-game winning streak end in a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the second meeting between the two teams in a span of a week. Sebastian Aho had the Canes' lone tally, while Alex Nedeljkovic made his NHL debut in net halfway through the contest.
"They won most of the individual battles, a lot of the puck battles," head coach Bill Peters said. "Their puck support was there quicker than we were. I just thought we lost a lot of battles in all three zones."
"I thought we played OK in the first period, but a couple tough goals," Aho said. "We need to bring more speed and play faster."
Video: CAR Recap: Nedeljkovic impressive in relief in loss
→ On Monday evening, the Hurricanes sent goaltender Michael Leighton to Charlotte and recalled Alex Nedeljkovic, his first call-up to the big show. Nedeljkovic hails from Parma, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, so his family made the trip to Columbus to see him dress in his first NHL game.
What was unexpected: Nedeljkovic making his NHL debut. Halfway through the second period, Nedeljkovic was summoned into the crease with the Hurricanes down 4-1.
"To be honest, I was a little anxious," Nedeljkovic said. "Whatever level you're playing at, if you're backing up, you're always ready to go just in case something happens. It was a lot of fun and pretty surreal. Unfortunately we couldn't find our way back in the game."
The 21-year-old rookie looked anything but, as he made 17 saves on 17 shots and staved off a seemingly relentless Columbus attack in the third period.
"I felt pretty good. It's a lot easier when you get into a game and you get a lot of shots," Nedeljkovic said. "They were putting pucks on net, and they had a lot of sustained pressure in our end. It made it easier to stay focused, stay in the game and find a rhythm."
"He was good," Peters said. "He came in, shut the door and gave us a chance to come back."
Nedeljkovic even tallied two penalty minutes, as he was whistled for holding shortly after taking to the crease.
"It's funny. Everyone was kind of joking around that I had to get on the scoresheet somehow. Getting a penalty, I guess, was the way to do it," Nedeljkovic said. "Thankfully the guys were able to kill it off and save my butt there."
Per Hurricanes Vice President of Communications and Team Services Mike Sundheim, this marks the first time the Hurricanes have used five goaltenders in a season (Cam Ward, Eddie Lack, Michael Leighton, Jorge Alves and Nedeljkovic) since 1997-98.
"I'm going to relish it and enjoy it," Nedeljkovic said with a smile. "It was a lot of fun."
→ Of course, Nedeljkovic's debut meant Ward's early exit in his 20th consecutive start.
Tonight shouldn't discount what No. 30 has done in the crease over the last six weeks. He's been a consistent and reliable mainstay in the net, back-stopping the team to 11 victories and helping them earn a point twice across a stretch of 19 games. Coming in to tonight's game, Ward had faced the third-most shots in the league (1,006) and made the fourth-most saves (920); he's seen a lot of rubber, and he saw 19 shots in just under 30 minutes tonight.
The Canes have a two-day gap before their next contest, including an off day on Wednesday - a well-earned rest for Ward.
"It won't hurt him at all," Peters said.
→ For 11 short seconds, the Hurricanes held a 1-0 lead in this game. Teuvo Teravainen fed Sebastian Aho with a beautiful cross-ice pass, and Aho made no mistake for his 11th of the season at the 18:06 mark of the first period.
"I just tried to be in front of the net, and it was a great pass from Turbo," Aho said. "A pretty easy goal for me."
From there, it was all Blue Jackets. Columbus tied the game on the very next shift, as Boone Jenner powered his way into the zone, around the Canes defense and around Ward for his ninth goal of the season. 35 seconds later, Brandon Dubinsky walked in and scored on a wrist shot. All of a sudden, a Hurricanes lead was flipped to an advantage for the home team heading in to the first intermission.
"I just thought they did a good job of getting pucks to the net. There was some traffic. We made it hard to pick up pucks," Peters said. "Give them credit for throwing pucks at the net, pucks and bodies."
Of course, this wasn't foreign territory for the Canes, who trailed after one period in each of their four home games last week. They had big second periods in all four, scoring a combined 11 goals, and won all four games.
Tonight was different. Columbus added two goals in the first half of the second period - Dubinsky's second of the game and then a rebound tally for Lukas Sedlak - and that was that.
"You've got to win the battles in all three zones," Peters said. "Got to play differently. Got to play faster, move the puck more efficiently, engage in the battles and win the battles."
→ It's now back home for the Hurricanes, briefly, as they host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday before returning to Columbus for a re-match with these same Blue Jackets.
"That's game three," Peters said of Saturday's tilt. "Each team's got one, so we'll see who gets the next one."