Winnipeg Jets at Carolina Hurricanes
7 p.m., PNC Arena
TV: FS-Carolinas, TSN – Jets
Tonight's game against the Winnipeg Jets will be the Hurricanes first game against a Southeast Division opponent since the second game of the season where they were blown out by Tampa Bay. They've played fewer games within the division than any other team in the Southeast but this will change in the next week or so, as three of their next five games will be intra-division. I mentioned in an earlier post that the Canes have a great chance to gain an advantage over the rest of the Southeast, but they may have to do it with five key players out of the lineup. In the past week, the Canes have seen Joni Pitkanen, Jeff Skinner, Jamie McBain, Tim Gleason and Tim Brent all sustain injuries and a few of them are going to be out for longer than a few games. This is going to put a lot of pressure on their top players to produce because there isn't much depth present in the rest of the lineup.
The Hurricanes are going to be especially thin on defense tonight, so much that they needed to recall junior defenseman Ryan Murphy from the Kitchener Rangers to play tonight. Murphy was the team's first round pick in 2011 and he has shined as an offensive defenseman in the OHL. His counting numbers haven't been as impressive this year and he has been prone to defensive lapses from time to time, so it's not certain that he's ready for the NHL but he will be getting a test tonight and might even see top-four minutes.
Carolina's entire organizational depth is going to be put to the test during this stretch of injuries and it will be interesting to see how some of the younger players perform. There are a lot of prospects who are confined to the minor leagues or fourth line minute because there's no room for them in the lineup but injuries are going to force at least one youngster into a bigger role for the Canes these next couple of games. It's up to them to take advantage of this opportunity and if Monday's game against the Canadiens is any indication, things could be very ugly. This roster is better than what they showed on that night, though so I have a feeling that we'll see a different team tonight against Winnipeg.
Know Your Opponent: Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have been off to a slow start this year, sitting near the bottom of the Southeast Division but they far from out of the race. They just need to string together a few wins in a row and they could find themselves in the hunt for a playoff spot and possibly the top spot in the Southeast Division. Winnipeg has actually been a pretty decent team at even strength this year, controlling over 50% of the corsi events and not getting outplayed in most of their games. They've seen some great play from captain Andrew Ladd, who is scoring at a point-per-game pace and leads the team in goals with eight. Ladd has been the Jets top scorer, but their best territorial players have been Evander Kane, Kyle Wellwood and Alexander Burmistrov. They are getting a zone start push from Claude Noel and have been keeping the puck in the offensive zone, but not scoring much aside from Kane.
Winnipeg is similar to Carolina in the sense that they've been a pretty good even strength team but special teams are their failing, specifically Winnipeg's penalty kill which has been unspeakably bad this season. Despite not giving up many shots on the PK, the Jets have killed off less than 70% of their penalties and it's mostly because they can't get a save from goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Goaltending isn't the only problem the Jetrs have but when your starting goalie has a save percentage below .900 and only .750 on the PK, you start to raise some eyebrows. Pavelec isn't a good goalie but he is not this bad either, so I would expect him to get better as the year goes on. He hasn't exactly had much success in the past against Carolina, though.
Tlusty – E. Staal – Semin
Bowman – J. Staal – Dwyer
Wallace – Jokinen – Nodl
Westgarth – Nash – LaRose
Corvo – Faulk
Harrison – Murphy
Jordan – Sanguinetti
Ladd – Little – Wheeler
Kane – Burmistrov – Antropov
Tangradi – Jokinen – Wellwood
Wright – Slater – Thorburn
Clitsome – Byfuglien
Hainsey – Bogosian
Stuart – Postma
Five Things to Watch For
– Today's lines are tentative with a capital t because Claude Noel is not afraid to mix his lines up mid-game. He did that a few times against Buffalo and there was an instance where Jim Slater was centering Kane and Antropov. The only line of their's which has stayed together for a long period of time is the Ladd-Little-Wheeler unit, which has been pretty good this season. They aren't performing well territorially despite getting a zone start push but Wheeler and Ladd aren't having much trouble getting on the scoresheet. That's obviously going to be the key line to watch tonight and I'd expected Jordan Staal along with Justin Faulk to be on the ice whenever these three are.
– With Carolina having so many injuries to their defense corps, it could be a nightmare in terms of matchups as the Canes might be relying on a junior player to play secondary minutes. Winnipeg hasn't received much depth scoring this year, but Evander Kane, Kyle Wellwood and Alex Burmistrov can expose a bad matchup when they get one, and they could have a field day against Carolina'd depth forwards. I would expect Muller to try and off-set this by getting Eric Staal's line against whatever the Jets second line is for tonight. The defense pairings are going to be far from ideal but the Canes might be in decent shape matchup-wise with their center depth.
– Alexander Semin has been playing the point on the first powerplay unit during practice this past week and I really like this idea. The team needs a new point-man with Brent, Pitkanen AND McBain all out and Semin might be good enough for the job. He's responsible defensively (yes, I'm serious), is pretty good at moving the puck and has a very dangerous shot from the point. The Jets PK unit has been okay at preventing shots but Pavelec has been leaky when playing 4v5. Letting Semin fire one away from the point with lots of traffic in front might be a way to beat him and get under his skin early.
– The Jets are also not at 100% and they will be without their top-scoring defenseman Tobias Enstrom tonight. He was scoring at a point-per-game pace before getting hurt but was getting mauled territorially despite playing some soft minutes. Thankfully for Winnipeg they got Zach Bogosian back the other night and he should provide them with someone who is competent enough to take on tough minutes. Byfuglien, Hainsey and Enstrom weren't exactly thriving in that role so getting Bogosian back will help a little. The Canes might have a favorable matchup if they can get Eric Staal's line away from him.
– Drayson Bowman is today's candidate to play on the Jordan Staal line, as the Hurricanes are doing everything to keep the left wing spot here from being a revolving door until Skinner returns. I actually thought Jokinen looked decent on this unit the other night against Montreal but he was bumped off it relatively quickly and now it's Bowman's turn in the top-six. Bowman's best game was the first home game against Ottawa where he was playing alongside Jokinen and Dwyer, so maybe he can have similar success with a better center? He certainly will help drive the play forward with how often he shoots the puck, so that's a plus. Still not going to fill the void that Skinner left, though.
Tonight could be very rough for Carolina with how inexperienced their defense corps is, but it also serves as an opportunity for the younger players and hopefully they will show up for the challenge. Again, injuries are just a part of what is a long season and it's the teams with depth that persevere. Let's see if the Hurricanes depth can step up.