Game 26 Preview: Panthers at Hurricanes

Florida Panthers (12-7-4) at Carolina Hurricanes (8-13-4)
7:00 p.m
TV: FS-Carolinas, FS-Florida

Only one day into his new job and Kirk Muller will already be coaching his first game as the new bench boss of the Carolina Hurricanes. He had his first practice with the team this morning and there seemed to be good vibes all around. One of the highlights from the practice was the conversation he had with Eric Staal saying that he “doesn’t have to be Super Man” and wants him to do more leading by example. I can’t say that I disagree with him on both points but Staal has been on an upward trend since November so I’m hoping that continues, but it’s clear that his play his been a disappointment so far this year. The general consensus among the players is that they let Paul Maurice down and their poor performance resulted in him losing his job. I can’t disagree with that either but it was clear that a coaching change for this team was inevitable. The Canes are rebuilding and Maurice simply did not fit into the organization’s future plans and it was time for him to go. Best of luck to him in his future endeavors.

The new era for Hurricanes hockey begins tonight with their game against the Florida Panthers and I, for one, can not be more excited about it. The rebuild process is now in full effect and it will probably take a long time but the results should be worth it.

Lines, defense pairings, analysis & more after the jump

Hurricanes

Skinner – Staal – Ruutu
Ponikarovsky – Jokinen – LaRose
Nodl – Sutter – Dwyer
Tlusty- Brent – Stewart

Pitkanen – McBain
Faulk – Gleason
Allen – Joslin/Kaberle

Ward

Panthers

Fleischmann – Weiss – Versteeg
Sturm – Santorelli – Kopecky
Bergenheim – Matthias – Skille
Kennedy – Cullen – Dadonov

Campbell – Garrison
Gudbranson – Jovanovski
Weaver – Kulikov

Theodore

Getting to know the Panthers

It’s strange that it’s taken this long before our first matchup with Florida…anyway, the Panthers have been a nice surprise to start the season as they sit at the top of the Southeast Division. Is this sustainable or are they going to have a 2009-10 Avalanche-like tank soon? I looked at their hot start a couple weeks ago and determined that the Cats have been playing well this season but a lot of their success has been driven by an unsustainable even strength save percentage from Jose Theodore and Jacob Markstrom. They’ve been very good territorially, though and that hasn’t changed much since I last looked at their corsi data. The only players who are getting killed with the score tied are defenseman Ed Jovanovski (who has a 35+ contract, by the way!) and some depth forwards like Tim Kennedy and Matt Bradley (who is out with an injury), so the Cats are faring way better than many expected them to.

One thing that was lost in Dale Tallon’s summer fiasco was that a lot of the players he overpaid signed were solid possession forwards who would be a good addition to many teams. They won’t make a team like Florida a cup contender but guys like Sean Bergenheim and Marcel Goc are nice to have. Speaking of Goc, he did not travel with the team this week and his absence is huge because of how Dineen has utilized him this season. Goc has been seeing most of the tough matchups, which has freed up easier minutes for Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann who have all been flourishing under this system. Jason Garrison’s emergence as an all-around threat after spending most of last year as a shutdown defenseman has helped too. 

I still do not think this team is good enough to scare anyone in the playoffs but with the start they got off to and how weak the last few spots in the East generally is, they could make a push to be one of the final eight.

Games Notes

  • Andreas Nodl is in the lineup tongiht and Brett Sutter was sent to Charlotte. He had two assists in his most recent call-up so great work, Sutter42. Nodl could be playing on the third line tonight since that’s the role he had in Philly but I’m not 100% sure what the lines will look like. 
  • Weiss, Versteeg and Fleischmann are playing really well right now but it’s worth noting that they are both shooting the lights out and the percentages are eventually going to catch up to them. They are all good players but I do not think they will keep up their point-per-game pace for much longer. Versteeg is playing the strongest out of the three and could have a breakout year, but I think he will cool off along with them.
  • Muller said that the defensive personnel would be a game-time decision which means we don’t know if Kaberle will be playing tonight or not. The defense was fine against Ottawa so I have to think that he won’t make much changes, but it’s easy to skew powerplay stats when you have eight attempts. Florida is a much more disciplined team.
  • Eric Staal finally broke over 50% in scoring chances in Sunday’s game and I’m feeling that it’s time for his linemate Tuomo Ruutu to do the same. He also got off to a rough start and is currently sitting at 49% right now. C’mon Ruutu, let’s do it.
  • Alexei Ponikarovsky has been on ice for less than five scoring chances at even strength the last three games. However, he’s also been on ice for seven powerplay chances and a PPG.
  • This is Ward’s 6th start in the last 10 games and if it wasn’t for Pekka Rinne, he would be on pace to lead the league in shots faced yet again.
  • No Carolina defenseman has a positive corsi ON rating. The only ones who come close are Bryan Allen and Tim Gleason. That is saying a lot about their play when you consider how many tough assignments they get.

Enjoy the game.

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