HURRICANES (2-4-2) at AVALANCHE (6-1-2)
Season series --
First of two meetings this season, with Colorado paying a return visit to Carolina on Jan. 8, 2010. Last season's only meeting occurred in Carolina, where the Hurricanes claimed a 5-2 win behind Matt Cullen's hat trick.
Big story --
The Avalanche return home, albeit briefly, for a pair of games in Denver before heading back out on a four-game road trip. All this time away from the comforts of the Pepsi Center seems only to have worked in this young team's favor, as the players have come together sooner than anyone had the right to expect and lifted Colorado into first place in the Western Conference.
A slow start to the season for Carolina continued Wednesday on Long Island with a 4-3 shootout loss to the Islanders, who were previously winless. The Hurricanes were down 3-1 with six minutes left in regulation before forcing overtime and earning a point thanks to goals by Eric Staal
and Jussi Jokinen
"We were able to come back against Pittsburgh at home and we knew the Islanders had trouble keeping leads," Jokinen said. "We tried to get some confidence and we were able to get the point. But we need wins."
It's hard to fathom how anyone could ask more from Colorado than the 4-1-2 record it was able to compile on a grueling, seven-day road trip that finally ended with a shootout loss in Minnesota on Wednesday. Back home, the Avalanche will turn to Peter Budaj in net against the Hurricanes, giving Craig Anderson his first night off this season after nine consecutive starts.
"Peter's going to play (Friday). I think it's the right time to get Peter in there and it's the right time to give Craig a night off," coach Joe Sacco said. "Like I said from day one, we've been riding Craig but everybody here has faith in Peter. He's going to play a great game for us (Friday) night."
Who's hot --
Ray Whitney picked up an assist against the Islanders in his 1,000th NHL game and is second on the Hurricanes in scoring. For the Avalanche, defenseman Kyle Quincey
is coming off a goal against the Wild that tied him for the team lead with eight points. He is also plus-5 for the season.
Injury report --
Carolina is missing forward Erik Cole, on injured reserve with a broken leg suffered Oct. 3, and forward Michael Ryan, out with an upper-body injury.
Colorado forward Cody McLeod
took an inadvertent stick to the eye while setting up a goal against Minnesota and is out indefinitely, though Sacco said, "He has good vision, which is good news." On the defense front, John-Michael Liles is recovering from a bruised shoulder, Tom Preissing remains out with a knee injury and Ruslan Salei is on injured reserve with a back injury.
Stat pack --
The Hurricanes have their work cut out for them -- not only will the Pepsi Center crowd be pumped to see the first-place Avalanche back home again, but Carolina has never recorded a point in that building. The franchise last won in Denver while still known as the Hartford Whalers, on Feb. 9, 1996, at McNichols Arena.
Puck drop --
The Avalanche are a much different team from the one the Hurricanes saw just eight months ago. Budaj gets the opportunity to show what he can do after Anderson staked his claim as the clear No. 1 goalie. Carolina will be looking to end an 0-3-1 road skid to start the season.
-- Brian Hunter, NHL.com