Tampa Bay Lighting at Carolina Hurricanes
PNC Arena, 7 p.m.
TV: SportsSouth, Sun Sports
We are only one game into the season and the overreactions have already begun. Fans everywhere are calling for players to be benched, coaches to be on the hot seat and front office decision are already being questioned. Yes, the season opener for the Hurricanes didn't go as planned but let's remind ourselves that it was only the first game of the year and the Canes weren't the only team who played poorly. Just take a look around the league right now and you'll see a lot of teams who didn't get off to great starts and are going through the same thing as Carolina. It might be a shortened year, but fans will have to be a little more patient with things this year because not every team is going to be up to shape due to training camp being rushed. Besides, the Hurricanes actually had a few more positives to take away from their game on Saturday than other teams.
Head coach Kirk Muller probably isn't going to make any drastic changes for tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning but he has been trying out some new lines in practice. Drayson Bowman has been moved up to the first line with Eric Staal while Zach Boychuk will be taking his spot on the fourth line.This change might be the most justified because Bowman was one of Carolina's best players on Saturday night while Boychuk was largely ineffective on the first line. One game is a little too soon to change things up, as it takes longer than that for players to develop chemistry but Muller is all about rewarding those who perform and that's what Bowman did on Saturday. Only time will tell if he is able to produce on the top line but hopefully Muller gives this line more than one game before he elects to switch it up again.
This line and the rest of the Hurricanes have a good chance to make a lasting impression in their home opener as they take on a Lightning squad that is playing their second game of a back-to-back. We'll talk more about the Lightning and this matchup after the jump.
Bowman – E. Staal – Semin
Tlusty – J. Staal – LaRose
Skinner – Jokinen – Dwyer
Boychuk – Brent – Westgarth
Gleason – Corvo
PItkanen – Faulk
Harrison – Sanguinetti
Out: Dalpe (illness), Welsh, McBain
Conacher – Stamkos – St. Louis
Purcell – Lecavalier – Malone
Pouliot – Thompson – Hall
Crombeen – Pyatt – Labrie
Brewer – Carle
Salo – Hedman
Lee – Aulie
Out: Tyrell, Bergeron, Mikkelson, Taormina,
Know Your Opponent: Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay won their first game of the season by taking down the Washington Capitals 6-3 on opening night but they dropped their second game to the Islanders 4-3. I should also mention that game was yesterday afternoon and the Lightning were also outshot 44-26 (33-18 at even strength), so this team could be tired heading into tonight's game. It's also worth mentioning that they were down 4-0 at one point in that game but rallied with three late goals to make it close. They had six players log over 20 minutes of ice-time, four of which were defensemen. That could lead to some favorable matchups for the Hurricanes, especially in the latter stages of the game. Carolina failed to take advantage of an injury-ridden Florida roster on opening night, let's see if they can do any better against a possibly fatigued Tampa squad.
The Lightning have an improved roster compared to last season with a new goaltender, a stronger defense corps and more forward depth, so I would expect for them to be in the hunt in the Southeast for most of the season. A lot of it is going to depend on how their new goaltender Anders Lindback performs and whether or not their D can stay healthy, because one player out of the lineup is going to push someone like Marc-Andre Bergeron or Keith Aulie into a top-four role, and that probably won't end well. Everyone is healthy for tonight, though and I'm sure Tampa is looking to come out strong tonight after a poor performance against the Islanders yesterday.
10 Things to Focus On
– I'm pretty sure that I heard an audible groan from the Carolina fanbase when it was announced that Chad LaRose would be playing on Jordan Staal's line. I honestly don't mind the approach, though. LaRose had a good game in terms of producing scoring chances on Saturday night and he is proven to be capable of driving the play forward against tough competition, which makes him a good player to have alongside J. Staal. His finishing ability doesn't make him ideal for the top-six, though but it looks like tonights lineup has more of a "top-nine" look to it where the ice-time will be spread around evenly.
– Zac Dalpe really can't catch a break, can he? He was injured in the early part of last season and ended up getting sent down and now it looks like he'll be out of tonight's lineup due to missing practice with an illness. Dalpe wasn't bad on Saturday, but he didn't make much of an impact either. That being said, I think he looked fine on the second line and should probably stay there unless one of Tlusty or LaRose comes up big tonight.
– Cam Ward is in net tonight after getting chased through 20 minutes on Saturday. Some are saying that Ellis should be starting and Ward has to "earn" his job back, but that mindset is just nonsense. Ward is the better goalie of the two and gives the team the best chance to win. Does Henrik Lundqvist need to "earn" his starting job back despite getting chased on Sunday against Pittsburgh? The thing with goaltending is that you don't know what to expect with them and their performance tends to be very random on any given night. We saw that with Ward on Saturday. I expect him to rebound.
– Tampa Bay has been shorthanded 11 times through two games this year, so Carolina's powerplay will likely get another chance to strike tonight. They have killed off 10 of those 11 penalties. On the other end of the spectrum, the Lightning's powerplay had three goals against Washington on Saturday, so Carolina will need to stay out of the box, as well. If they don't, then the PK has nowhere to go but up after that debacle against Florida.
– Muller has apparently dropped Skinner down to the "third line" with Jokinen in an attempt to spread out the forwards. Skinner has shown great chemistry with Jokinen in seasons past and he also draws easier matchups than both the Staal brothers, so this could work out very well. I would have given Skinner some more time with J. Staal to see how they work together. Skinner's got to learn to play the toughs some day, right?
– Glason and Corvo are going to have quite a tough assignment tonight in shutting down the Stamkos line. At even strength, Gleason did his job of keeping Weiss' line relatively quiet while Corvo wasn't terrible defensively but he made a few bad decisions that ended up hurting the team. The defense pairings will be the same tonight, so these two will have another chance to show what they can do against the opposing team's best.
– Be on the lookout for rookie Cory Conacher for the Lightning. He was the AHL's MVP last season and has been placed on Vinny Lecavalier's line to start the year. So far, he's taken full advantage of this opportunity with one goal and three points through two games. It's likely going to be Pitkanen and Faulk up against that line, which should be a good matchup. Pitkanen and Faulk looked like a dynamic pairing when they had the puck and they didn't give up too much in their own end at even strength, so this could be fun to watch.
– Tampa Bay will be going with their back-up Mathieu Garon tonight since Lindback played yesterday. Garon played three games against Carolina last year and gave up eight goals on 62 shots. That should give Carolina fans some confidence but like I said earlier, you never know with goalies.
– Three guys who need to be better than they were on Saturday are Eric Staal, Bobby Sanguinetti and Jay Harrison. Staal was held silent for most of the night while Harrison and Sanguinetti struggled a lot in third pairing minutes. Those two need to succeed in that kind of role, especially Harrison with his experience. I haven't heard anything about McBain being placed into the lineup but I think Sanguinetti will get a longer look before that happens.
– My player to watch tonight is obviously Drayson Bowman after his promotion to the top line, but I would also be on the lookout for Jokinen in this game. He was fantastic offensively Saturday and could possibly be playing with Skinner back on his wing tonight. If he gets a favorable matchup then look out.
Let's hope the crowd is ready for the home opener and that the team comes to play tonight. Enjoy the game and let's go Canes.