Ottawa Senators at Carolina Hurricanes
PNC Arena, 7 p.m.
TV: FS-Carolinas, Sportsnet-East
The sense of optimism in Raleigh after their back-to-back sweep of the Buffalo Sabres didn't last long as the feelings of gloom and doom returned after the Hurricanes 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday night. A bad third period performance is usually a good way to lose confidence in your team, but it's important to be rational in these types of situations. I'm sure that most people had Carolina starting their year better than 2-3-0 and their special teams work has left a lot to be desired so I can understand why some fans are disappointed. That being said, five games is a little too early to hit the panic button and the team has shown signs of improving. The team is right back at .500 if they win tonight's game against Ottawa so they could be in a much worse situation. If they still have only two wins through 10 games, then it's time to start worrying.
Another thing to keep in mind is that their last two losses have come against teams that have dropped only two total games in regulation (Tampa Bay and Boston) so the Canes haven't exactly had the easiest road thus far. It won't get any easier tonight when they take on the rolling Ottawa Senators. Ottawa has won two games in a row and has lost only one game in regulation, so tonight's game is going to be a very tough challenge for the Hurricanes. There are a few reasons to be confident, though with the main one being Justin Faulk's return to the lineup tonight. We could also see some new forward lines and a new-look powerplay if the reports from practice are any indication.
Carolina is going to embark on a two-week road trip after tonight's game, so getting at least a point tonight against Ottawa will be critical. A further breakdown of this game is coming after the jump.
Know Your Opponent: Ottawa Senators
Ottawa is off to a terrific 5-1-1 start this year and a large part of their success is based on strong 5-on-5 play. They have the third highest Fenwick close percentage in the NHL at 55.4% which means that they have done an excellent job of controlling possession in close games. They are also 6th in the league in powerplay percentage and second in shots generated, so the Hurricanes are going to have their hands full tonight in all areas. The Hurricanes have also been very good at controlling the shot battle at even strength this year, but I mentioned in an earlier post that it might relate to them playing from behind in 3/5 of their five games. This game might show us what Carolina is really made of and if they are as good at even strength as their underlying stats indicate.
The last statement may not be completely valid tonight because the Senators are going to be without their best forward in Jason Spezza, who will be out indefinitely with a herniated disk. Spezza is one of the best playmakers in the NHL and a big key to Ottawa's ability to drive play at even strength. They won their last two games without him but it's worth mentioning that they were outshot at even strength in both contests, so trouble could be ahead for the Sens. Ottawa does have plenty of guys who can drive the play, though with the most notable player being Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson but their fourth line has also done a fantastic job of controlling possession at even strength. Jim O'Brien, Erik Condra and Peter Regin have been able to move the forward very effectively and it's led to them adding some secondary scoring to Ottawa's repertoire. With how poorly Carolina's third line has played this year, this could be a bad matchup for the Canes.
Tlusty – E. Staal – Semin
Dalpe – J. Staal – Skinner
Bowman – Jokinen – Dwyer
Nodl – Brent – LaRose
Gleason – Faulk
Pitkanen – McBain
Harrison – Corvo
Alfredsson – Turris – Michalek
Silfverberg – Regin – Latendresse
Greening – Smith – Neil
O'Brien – Zibanejad – Condra
Karlsson – Methot
Phillips – Borowiecki
Wiercoch – Benoit
Five Things to Focus On
– Carolina will have their work cut out for them tonight against Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson, who has allowed only three total even strength goals against this season. I know that he's prone to serious regression but we've seen this team get shut down by a couple hot goalies this year and Anderson is a prime candidate to the same to them tonight.
– At the other end, Dan Ellis will be starting in net for the Hurricanes. This is the first night of a back-to-back, so either him or Ward were going to start one game regardless and it appears that they want to give Ellis the nod tonight. I know some people were calling for him to start with Ward's sub-par star to the season and while I understand wanting to ride the "hot goaltender," I hope these people realize that Carolina is back at square one if Ellis has a bad game tonight. I also hope the Hurricanes don't plan on making him stop 40+ shots again, because it's unreasonable to expect him to do that every game.
– Andreas Nodl will be making his return to the lineup for the Hurricanes tonight and it appears that he's going to be on the fourth line with Tim Brent and Chad LaRose. Depending on how Muller uses this unit, I think this could work for him. Nodl probably isn't going to be used in a defensive role with LaRose on this line, so it'll be different from how he was used last year and I'm interested to see how he performs. I'm also curious to see how Dwyer performs on the third line in a more offensive role. Lord knows that Carolina could use some secondary scoring.
– The confidence in Carolina's powerplay is probably at an all-time low right now after that performance against Boston, but I think they are going to break through soon enough. They are generating over 50 shots per 60 minutes with the man advantage and are certainly generating enough chances. I'm not sure if Anderson is the goalie who they will have their breakout game against, but I think the goals will come to them soon enough.
– Ottawa will be without veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar tonight, which is a pretty big loss for their powerplay. However, they've managed to be a superb team at even strength this year despite not having many veterans on their blue-line. I haven't gotten the chance to get a closer look at guys like Patrick Wiercoch, Andre Benoit and Mark Borowiecki so tonight will be a good opportunity to do so. Gonchar isn't known for his play in his own end but he still logs big minutes and his absence could pose a favorable matchup for Carolina's second line against the Phillips-Borowiecki pairing.
This game should be a very good test for the Hurricanes and it would be nice to see them get a win before going on the road for the next couple of weeks. Enjoy the game.