After months of previewing and speculating, the 2013-14 season is finally here for the Carolina Hurricanes and they face a very tough test tonight when they take on the Detroit Red Wings. I never like to read into opening night results that much because it's only one game, but after how the last two season openers went for Carolina (both 5-1 losses), it would be nice to see the Hurricanes come away with a win tonight. Especially since this hasn't exactly been an ideal off-season for the Canes. Between the news about Joni Pitkanen, the myriad of injuries affecting the club right now and the move to a tougher division, the feeling in Hurricanes camp right now is one of concern rather than hope.
Personally, I don't think the Hurricanes are going to be that outmatched in this new division as some may believe, but there are a lot of things that need to go right for them in order to make the playoffs. With so many key players injured during the pre-season, it may take a few games for the coaches to figure out what the full-time lineup will be and the next couple of weeks may not be pretty from Carolina's standpoint, especially since they play some very good teams at the beginning of their schedule.
There's definitely a lot to be concerned about if you're a Canes fan and I understand that but personally, I'm way more excited for this season than I was the last two or three. I might be a little more optimistic than I should be, but I truly don't believe the Canes were as bad as their record stated last season and I like that there is a lot up in the air for them this year. I don't know what to expect in terms of results or how the team will perform in the new division because there is still a lot that needs to be decided. All I do know is that this is going to be a much different Canes team than they were in year's past (for better or worse) and that really makes me look forward to this season even if most people are projecting the Canes to finish last in the division.
As for tonight's game, I really want to see the Hurricanes carry over their strong puck-possession game from last season and hang tough with Detroit but ultimately, I'm just hoping for a win. Even if it's one where they get outshot 35-22 and rely on luck to carry them. This is not how I want the Canes to win all of their games but for tonight, I'll be satisfied with a win no matter how it comes. I'm sure everyone else in the Triangle has the same mindset, so let's get to previewing the actual game.
Know the Opponent: Detroit Red Wings
One of two teams joining the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Red Wings are now back in a friendly time zone and are projected to be one of the top teams in their division this year. Their core is starting to get old, but they've still managed to play a strong game at even strength and are coming off their 21st consecutive playoff appearance. If there is one team that symbolizes the importance of even strength puck-possession, the Wings would be a great choice as they've won championships based on playing this style of game and have continued to have successful seasons even in "rebuilding years." Last year being one of them, as they made the playoffs as a seventh seed and gave the Chicago Blackhawks a scare in the second round before being eliminated in seven games.
Detroit appears to have their sights set higher this year, as they acquired two great veterans in Daniel Alfredsson & Stephen Weiss to boost their forward corps and also brought back Dan Cleary on a one-year deal. The Wings have posted very good underlying numbers in the tough Central Division for years, so most figure they should be right at home in the East and dominate some of the "weaker" competition. Their new Atlantic Division rivals, the Buffalo Sabres, got a taste of that on Wednesday night as they took a 2-1 loss to the Wings and were outshot 27-13 at even strength. Will Carolina suffer a similar fate?
Carolina is a better team than Buffalo, but they didn't face an opponent like Detroit last year so it will be interesting to see how this new lineup handles them.
Tlusty – E. Staal – Semin
Gerbe – J. Staal – Dwyer
Skinner – Nash – Dvorak
Bowman – Lindholm – Sutter
Sekera – Faulk
Hainsey – Murphy
Harrison – Bellemore
Scratches: Gleason (injured), Westgarth, Komisarek
Abdelkader – Datsyuk – Zetterberg
Franzen – Weiss – Alfredsson
Bertuzzi – Andersson – Cleary
Miller – Emmerton – Samuelsson
Ericsson – Kronwall
Smith – Quincey
Kindl – Dekeyser
Out: Lashoff, Tatar
Ten Game Notes
– According to Extra Skater, everyone on the Red Wings controlled over 50% of the shot attempts which they were on the ice for. I don't think Carolina will get dominated this much, but that first line could give the Hurricanes fits if they don't plan their matchup accordingly. Pavel Datsyuk is someone who will make you pay if you make one mistake in your own end and that was a huge problem for this team last year.
– Carolina will meet a familiar foe in Stephen Weiss, who played many games against the Hurricanes from his days with the Florida Panthers. Weiss has 31 points in 52 career games against the Hurricanes, but he is coming off a bad, injury plagued season so it will be interesting to see how he performs in more of a complimentary role. The last time the Hurricanes played against Weiss, he got into a fight with Justin Faulk and suffered a season ending injury later in the contest.
– It looks like the Canes are sticking with Nathan Gerbe & Patrick Dwyer on Jordan Staal's line after how good they were in the preseason. These three did show good chemistry, but I'm not sure how long they'll stick together as a "second line" since Dwyer was only adequate in that role for a few games. Gerbe has a scoring upside, though and his style of play compliments Jordan well. Judging from the rest of the lines, Muller will likely deploy this unit against Datsyuk while giving Skinner & Nash more favorable matchups.
– Elias Lindholm will make his Hurricanes debut tonight after sitting out most of the preseason with an injury. However, Muller is probably going to ease him into action and start him on the fourth line for now, but I can see him working his way up the lineup if he plays well. He has also been practicing on the first power play unit, so he'll definitely get some decent minutes tonight even if he starts on the fourth line for now.
– Mike Komisarek & Kevin Westgarth are the healthy extras tonight and that's probably a wise move since there isn't much need to insert either of them in the lineup for "toughness" against Detroit. They have a skilled lineup and can make someone like Komisarek look silly if they catch him out of position. Plus, having Bowman on the fourth line gives the Canes much better depth than using that spot on an enforcer.
– Keep your eye on Brett Bellemore tonight. I noticed him bailing Harrison out of a lot of tough situations during the preseason and playing a solid game in his own zone, so I want to see if it continues now that he isn't playing against other team's B squads. Bellemore was also one of the team's best territorial players during the preseason and that carrying over into the regular season will be a huge boost to the club.
– I mentioned that Jordan might get the tough matchups tonight, but it wouldn't surprise me if Muller ends up going power vs. power with Eric Staal's line facing Datsyuk. I'm not sure if I'm in favor of that plan but he did this a lot last season and might revert to it.
– Alex Semin missed a lot of the preseason with a wrist injury and was not practicing with the team until a couple days ago, so I'll be keeping my eye on him tonight. He might be a little hesitant to shoot the puck if the wrist is still bothering him, but the other parts of his game should still be in regular form.
– According to the faceoff report, Mike Babcock gave a lot of defensive zone draws to both Cory Emmerton and Joakim Andersson, so the Wings third and fourth lines will probably get most of the tough territorial assignments while Datsyuk & Weiss play more in the offensive zone. Although, Emmerton & Anderson's numbers are probably boosted from them being used heavily on the penalty kill and Datsyuk still had six defensive zone draws, so he may not have much of a preference here. I do expect Datsyuk's line to get a lot of offensive zone draws, though.
– Buffalo went 0/7 on the power play with over 11 minutes of PP time and a few sequences with a 5-on-3. Let's hope the Hurricanes have more success against Detroit tonight.
Enjoy the game and let's go Canes.