RALEIGH — The Charlotte Checkers look to be headed to the AHL playoffs. Perhaps if some of their players were in Raleigh sooner, so too would the Carolina Hurricanes.
Warren Foegele had a goal and an assist in his first NHL game, and fellow rookie Valentin Zykov stayed hot since his recall with his third goal in four games to lead the Hurricanes to a 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday in front of 10,817 at PNC Arena.
With his parents, brother and girlfriend in attendance for his debut, Foegele did not disappoint by opening the scoring.
Foegele collected the puck in the corner, rolled off of a hit by Ben Harpur and drove to the net, sneaking a shot between Senators goalie Craig Anderson’s glove and pad on the short side with 68 seconds left in the first period for a 1-0 lead — and his first NHL goal.
“I thought I would just do a tight turn on him and just shoot it on net and was fortunate enough just to go in,” Foegele said. “I heard the crowd make the noise, and I looked in the back of the net. Pretty surreal moment for myself and something I’ll remember forever.”
The Senators’ Bobby Ryan tied it near the game’s midway point on a twisting shot that beat Cam Ward (19 saves), but Zykov and Foegele — the AHL’s leading goal scorer and rookie goal scorer, respectively — weren’t done impressing.
Derek Ryan got Foegele the puck in the slot, and he quickly released a shot that was stopped by Anderson. Zykov, however, was in the crease to clean up the loose change at 14:38 of the second to stay hot.
“Both of us like to go to the net; it’s where we get our goals mostly,” Zykov said. “You dream to have a sick shot, top shelf, but to have those kind of goals you have to play a little bit more games and get more confident.”
Brock McGinn’s 15th of the season less than two minutes later gave Carolina a two-goal cushion heading into the third period, and a stalemate in the final frame was capped off by a Sebastian Aho empty-net goal — his 27th of the year that extended his career-best point streak to eight games — to end it.
“A really good play by Warren on his goal — beat a guy out of the corner and off the wall, went to the net hard,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said following the win, the team’s third straight. “Then Z gets the game winner. So huge contributions from all those young guys.”
The back-to-back wins against the Senators were convincing, but a tougher test was set for Tuesday with a game in New Jersey against the Devils, who are clinging to the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The ongoing evaluation of Zykov, Foegele and defenseman Roland McKeown — who, also up from Charlotte due to injuries on the blue line, finished a game-best plus-3 on the night — will continue in more of a playoff-style atmosphere in Newark on Tuesday, Peters said.
For now, Carolina’s call-ups have been just what the doctor ordered for a team poised to miss the playoffs for a ninth straight season.
“They can come in here and instill that youth and energy and vigor,” Derek Ryan, who assisted on both Foegele’s and Zykov’s goals, said. “And I think they’ve shown that so far, and it’s fun to have the smiles on their faces.
“To see Warren scores his first goal in his first game and smile on the bench, he’s excited and it kind of makes me relive those memories for myself,” Ryan added. “I was a little bit older when I got my first one, but yeah, it’s fun to watch those guys flourish and take advantage of their opportunities.”
Notes: Justin Faulk missed his second straight game for Carolina. He joined Brett Pesce and Victor Rask — both out for the year with shoulder injuries — as injured scratches. … Lee Stempniak was scratched to make room for Foegele on the fourth line. … Zykov now has three goals and two assists in the four games his he was recalled, and four goals in six career games. … Foegele was credited with five hits. … Jason Shaya, the Checkers radio play-by-play announcer, filled in for John Forslund on the television broadcast.