Pittsburgh Penguins at Carolina Hurricanes
7 p.m., PNC Arena
TV: NHL-Network, FS-Carolinas, Root Sports
Much like Tuesday night's game against the Washington Capitals, tonight's showdown with the Pittsburgh Penguins has a bit of hype added to it. Not only will it be Jordan Staal's first game against his former team, it will also be Brandon Sutter's first game in Carolina since being traded to the Hurricanes. The national media is probably more focused on Staal right now because he won a cup in Pittsburgh and was a big part of that team for man years, but Sutter was also a very popular player in Carolina. He served as alternate captain for the last two years and fans loved his work ethic and personality. Sutter was an ideal third line center at the age of 22 and was seen as a big piece of the Hurricanes rebuild until he was traded this June.
Jordan Staal has done a lot for this team in a short period of time but most of the fanbase still loves Sutter and appreciates his time with the Canes, so I'm sure they folks at PNC tonight will do their part in welcoming him back to Raleigh.
While that's a nice storyline to add to this game, the Hurricanes also received some great news earlier this morning when it was announced that Jeff Skinner, Tim Brent, Jamie McBain and Tim Gleason will be returning to the lineup. Pitkanen will still be missed, but getting two top-four guys back in the mix going to give this defense a huge boost. Not having an adequate defense corps has been one of the Hurricanes biggest problems over the last couple of weeks, so getting two players back is going to help a lot. I don't even have to mention how much getting Skinner back will help but I just hope that he wasn't rushed since the last thing I want to happen is for him to sustain another head injury.
Either way, most of the gang is back together and that should at least inspire the Hurricanes to a better performance than they've shown the last few games. They are going to need to put together a good effort tonight since they are taking on arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference
Know Your Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are currently sitting at second in the Eastern Conference with 26 points and have one of the league's best offenses. Only Tampa Bay has scored more overall and 5v5 goals than the Penguins and the Pens have been able to to it without the help of a ridiculous shooting percentage. The Penguins ability to drive the play forward is also near the top of the league, as they've controlled over 50% of the even strength shot attempts and 51.77% of them when the score is close. It helps that they have two of the best players in the world at their disposal in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin along with one of the top goal-scorers in the league in James Neal and a dynamic defenseman in Kris Letang. There are a lot of ways that this team can hurt you, that's for sure.
One of their big guns will be sitting out tonight's game as Evgeni Malkin suffered a concussion & memory loss after taking a brutal (clean) hit from Erik Gudbranson in their game against the Panthers last Friday. Malkin's absence creates a big hole for the Pens to fill for the Pens but they still have plenty of weapons at their disposal. Crosby, Neal and Letang being the obvious ones but Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz are certainly no slouches either and even our old friend Brandon Sutter has chipped into the secondary scoring this year with four goals.
Sutter's underlying numbers, on the other hand, haven't been very good this year as it appears the Penguins are spending a lot of time in their own zone whenever he is on the ice. Part of this is likely because Sutter is getting all of the tough matchups on the third line to free up easier minutes for Malkin and Neal. Basically similar to what Jordan Staal did for them in years prior. Malkin being out could mean Crosby will bet getting the zone start push and easier matchups if he plays on Neal's line, which could end poorly for the Hurricanes. Here's to hoping that Muller uses the last change to his full advantage to help off-set that.
Tlusty – E. Staal – Semin
Skinner – J. Staal – LaRose
Jokinen – Nash – Dwyer
Wallace – Brent – Dalpe
Harrison – Faulk
Gleason – Sanguinetti
Corvo – McBain
Kunitz – Crosby – Neal
Bennett – Sutter – Dupuis
Cooke – Jeffrey – Kennedy
Glass – Vitale – Adams
Orpik – Martin
Niskanen – Letang
Despres – Engelland
Five Things to Watch For
– The matchup I'm most keen on watching tonight is Jordan Staal up against his old teammate Sidney Crosby. Staal has beeen getting the tough matchups all season and he has been doing a fine job of winning the battles against them. It's something that he's been able to do against his entire career but this is going to be the first time he has ever faced off against Crosby as an opponent. Seeing how Crosby is the best player in the world right now, this matchup could be very interesting. The Canes are lucky that they don't have to worry about who will be facing off against Malkin since I don't think it will end well for any of their other lines.
– On the other hand, this is going to be the first time that Eric Staal has faced Brandon Sutter as an opponent. Sutter is a skilled tough minutes player and he probably knows most of Staal's moves and tendencies from being teammates with him for so long. The first line has been awful the last five games so I'm hoping they can pull out a good performance tonight. Although there is much less pressure on them now that Skinner is back in the lineup.
– How effective will Skinner be tonight is what I'm wondering. It's his first game back from a concussion and I can't help but feel that the whole process was rushed. If he's passed all the tests and feels fine then all should be well and good but we'll see how he looks in game action. Skinner is the type of player who never gives up on a play and his determination is hard to dislike but he also puts himself into some bad positions as a result. Hopefully he can learn to keep his intensity while playing a little smarter than before because the team really needs him to stay in the lineup. Oh, and Brooks Orpik will likely be out there whenever he is on the ice, so watch out for that too.
– The defense pair seem a bit off to me right now but I'm sure that Muller was just experimenting with things in practice now that he has 7-8 defensemen healthy again. If I were running the team, I'd put Gleason back on shutdown duty with Faulk. No Malkin in the lineup means that the Canes can target one of the Pens top lines with their best defensive players so splitting up Faulk & Gleason doesn't make much sense here. Then again, this is also Gleason's first game back from a foot/ankle injury so maybe they want to ease him back into playing shape?
– Chad LaRose will start this game on the top-six according to the lines at practice this morning. Therefore, my fifth thing to watch for is how long it will be until this line is broken up and the inevitable shuffling between wingers begins. I'm not sure why LaRose is being given another shot in the top-six after his performance on the top line against Washington but I'm just going to hope that it works out without this line becoming completely useless. I do feel for Patrick Dwyer, though. Seeing how he was a great combo with Jordan Staal and gets demoted and replaced with someone who hasn't been playing well at even strength this year.
The Hurricanes will play five of their next six games at home and the last time they won a game at the PNC Arena was exactly two weeks ago. With everyone finally healthy again, tonight is a good chance for them to put on a good show for the fans and get back in the win column. It's going to take a strong effort, though because nothing ever comes easy against Pittsburgh.