Category 5: Hurricanes host Connor Bedard, Spencer Martin to make first PNC start

Hurricanes goaltender Spencer Martin will make his first career start at PNC Arena on Monday against the Blackhawks. (Charles Krupa / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Hurricanes return home after winning two of three on a Western Conference road trip and will host another team from the opposite conference on Monday, the NHL-worst Blackhawks.

1. The Hurricanes will face phenom Connor Bedard for the first time on Monday. The top pick in last summer’s NHL Draft will be playing his third game since returning from a broken jaw — which occurred on a hit by Devils and former Hurricanes defenseman Brendan Smith — on Jan. 5 that kept him out more than a month.

Bedard said he “feels fine” since returning to the lineup — he has totaled three points in his last two games — and said his first season has been fun but challenging.

“The amount we’ve lost is frustrating and that weighs on everyone,” Bedard said of the Blackhawks’ 15-37-3 record following Monday’s morning skate. “So we want to have a good final stretch here in the last 30 or whatever we got and build those habits, build that winning culture.”

Carolina will certainly be aware of No. 98.

“A special player,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said of the Calder Trophy favorite. “To watch him play, it’s dynamic and exciting. We don’t want to be watching him too much because, obviously, he’ll make you pay. He’s one of the rare talents that comes along where you get the puck on his stick and there’s just always some positive happening. Like, it’s just there’s a threat all the time.”

2. The Hurricanes present a unique challenge for Bedard and a young Chicago team that has played 13 players this season who are 24 or younger. Carolina’s aggressive forecheck and activated defense give just about every team fits, and the Blackhawks will get to see it firsthand.

“We’ve warned them already,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. “They better be ready for it because you can say it, but until they’ve seen it in the first period here tonight then it’s a different animal for sure.

“And, I mean, it’s exciting. It’s a great challenge. So I’m looking forward to seeing how we can deal with that.”

It will be interesting to see who Brind’Amour assigns to handle Bedard with the final change. While the pairing of Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce will likely be over the boards as often as possible against the 18-year-old, Carolina will need to decide if Jordan Staal will shadow Bedard all night or Sebastian Aho will go head-to-head with him in a battle of first lines.

“They’re a really good team and they play really hard,” Bedard said. “So we’re excited for that challenge. We know how good they’ve been in the past few years, so it should be fun.”

The other challenge for the Blackhawks is they are just 4-23-1 on the road this season and dropped 19 straight — all in regulation — away from the Windy City. Chicago’s last road win was Nov. 9 against Tampa Bay.

3. Former Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek will start for the Blackhawks. It will be just his second start at PNC Arena since he left Carolina as a free agent following the 2020-21 season. He made 43 saves in Raleigh on Dec. 27, 2022, in a 3-0 loss — Martin Necas, Jesper Fast and Jordan Martinook scored for the Hurricanes, and Antti Raanta had a 24-save shutout.

Mrazek has had a spectacular season in front of a weak lineup, posting a 13-21-2 record that doesn’t reflect his .911 save percentage. He signed a contract extension in late January that will pay him an average of $4.25 million over the next two seasons.

“He’s been so good for us all year,” Richardson said. “And he deserves this attention. He’s been just our backbone. … We’ve just got to make sure we take care of the puck, that we don’t put him in tough situations.”

4. In the other net Monday will be Spencer Martin, who will make his first home start with the Hurricanes exactly two months after he was claimed off waivers by Carolina. He’s been stellar in his two starts with the Hurricanes, winning road games at Boston and Vegas 3½ weeks apart while posting a 1.50 goals-against average and .948 save percentage.

It will be Martin’s first game at PNC Arena, and he should receive a hero’s welcome after his performances against two of the league’s top teams.

“He played two games but two tough starts, and obviously against real good teams,” Brind’Amour said. “You can’t do any more than he did, but good for him (and) good for us.”

5. In other goaltending news, Frederik Andersen was in the starter’s crease at Monday’s morning skate, setting off a wave of tweets that sent the Hurricanes’ PR staff scrambling through the stands to let everyone know the goalie wouldn’t be making his first start since Nov. 2.

With Pyotr Kochetkov under the weather and Martin slated to start, Carolina put Andersen in the starter’s crease just so he’d face more action during the skate.

Andersen is being closely monitored — he has been taking blood thinners to combat the deep-vein thrombosis that led to pulmonary embolisms — but it was still another step in the right direction for a player who has been out more than three months.

“Well, it’s encouraging,” Brind’Amour said. “I think it’s good for him just to be around it and get back into some sort of normal flow. Obviously, he’s not ready to go yet, but every day that he practices is hopefully a step closer to getting them in there.”