The Penguins travel to the RBC Center in Raleigh, South Carolina to face off against the team that they knocked off in the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
Looking at this game on paper, one might assume that it would be an easy night for the Birds. I don’t expect that to be the case. The Canes have been playing some great hockey as of late and have posted an impressive 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games. They have looked like a different team since naming center Eric Staal the team’s captain.
The Penguins have also been red hot and have not lost a game since returning from the Olympic break, winning four in a row over that stretch. They could be even better tonight, as they are set to get Bill Guerin back in the line-up. Guerin had missed the last three games with back spasms.
Guerin’s return, coupled with the teams’ new found depth on the wing has forced someone out of the line-up. Tyler Kennedy will be a healthy scratch this evening and it isn’t a big shock to anyone who has been following this team. Sure he is 1/3 of the Penguins third line, which ranks amongst the best thirds in the league, but his game has just lacked a little something lately. It just doesn’t seem as if he is spending much time playing the high energy, hard working game that earned him his spot in the line-up to begin with.
Dan Bylsma has shown over his time with the team that he is not afraid to bench a player that he feels isn’t performing to the standard that he has set for them. Look no further than Petr Sykora and Miroslav Satan if you need some evidence of that.
Bylsma will also be playing Brent Johnson this evening, which dovetails nicely with the fact that the Canes are playing their back-up, Justin Peters.
Previous Meetings This Season
The Penguins have gone 1-1-0 against the Canes on the season.
Teams records in last 10 games overall
The Penguins have posted a 6-1-3 record over their last 10 games, while the Hurricanes have gone 8-1-1.
For the Penguins it is the usual suspects. Sidney Crosby has notched 27 points (14G-13A) in his last 16 games, while Evgeni Malkin has picked up 25 points (10G-15A) in his last 17. It is also worth mentioned Chris Kunitz, who has been a new man since getting himself back to 100% during the Olympic break. The scrappy winger has picked up 5 points (2G-3A) in his last 3 games.
For the Hurricanes, Eric Staal has been on fire since being named the team’s captain. Though his pace has slowed a little, he has still picked up 32 points (14G-18A) in his last 27 games. Jussi Jokinen is really coming into his own in Carolina and has notched 26 points (16G-10A) in his last 20 games.
Tonight’s healthy scratch, Tyler Kennedy has been ice cold. The youngster has picked up 7 points (2G-5A) in his last 21 games. I realize that he is usually cast in a third line role, but his production has got to be at a higher level. Ruslan Fedotenko has also been chilly, picking up only 9 points (1G-8A) in his last 21 games. Though he has struggled to pick up points, adding his countryman, Alexi Ponikarovsky to the line-up has seemingly sparked something in him.We are also entering Tank’s time of year — he is as close to a Mr. October, as you can have in hockey. (Pardon my baseball reference)
For the Hurricanes, Ray Whitney, who was the biggest trade that didn’t go down last week, has cooled significantly. The veteran winger has 0 points in his last 4 games. Sergei Samsonov has also been quiet, picking up only 3 points (1G-2A) in his last 6 games…two of which came in the same game.
The Penguins have started their final 20 game stretch 4-0. Last season in their final 20 games under head coach Dan Bylsma, the Penguins went an impressive 15-2-3.
Tonight’s match-up marks the second game of Carolina’s 14th set of 16 back to back games this season. The Canes are 9-15-3 in back to back games this season, including their 6-6-1 record in the second halves of such situations.
What to look for:
Look for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to each have a potentially big night. The duo have notched 30 points (10G-20A) in 27 combined games against the Hurricanes.
If Jussi Jokinen scores a goal, it is a pretty good bet that his team will win the game. The Hurricanes have posted a 17-3-4 record in games in which Jokinen has gotten on the scoreboard.
In the last 16 games, either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin has figured in on 42 of Pittsburgh’s 53 goals scored, including a stretch of 17 straight.
The Canes 20 player line-up for opening night had an average age of 30.35 and a median age of 30. The anticipated 20 man line-up for tonight’s game against the Penguins has an average age of 27.6 and a median age of 27.