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Gameday: Canes Face East's Best

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes have had their fair share of success against the National Hockey League’s top teams this season. Most notably, they swept the Boston Bruins in their four meetings, and most recently, they topped the Nashville Predators 3-2.

Michael Smith
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So far this season against the New York Rangers, however, the Hurricanes have been outscored 10-4 in two losses. Coming off their best month of the season and undefeated in regulation on this six-game homestand, the Canes will look to top the Eastern Conference’s best team tonight.

What type of game does head coach Kirk Muller expect?

“Physical, hard,” he said. “They’ll be no passengers tonight. It will be a direct, straight-line game. It starts with goaltending. Their D are in the play, they’re up the ice and they’re skilled. Their forwards, there are no secrets.”

Starting with their goaltending, the Rangers will put Martin Biron in the crease tonight, according to the New York media. Biron is 10-3-2 on the season with a 2.21 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. Making 28 saves, he was the winning goaltender in a 5-3 win for New York on Dec. 1 at the RBC Center.

Moving out to their defense, Marc Staal will face his brother’s team for the first time since suffering a concussion on Feb. 22 in Raleigh. In the defensive zone, the Rangers thrive on blocking shots; they rank fourth in the League with 1,009 blocked shots. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh leads the Rangers in blocked shots and ranks fourth in the League with 148. Fellow blue-liner Dan Girardi has 145, which also slots him in the League’s top ten.

“You’ve got to move the puck, and move it out of the shooting lanes. You aren’t going to shoot through people,” Muller said. “You’ve got to get more movement. You’ve got to open it up in the offensive zone. The puck always moves faster than a human being, so move it.”

That’s what the Canes will focus on doing tonight, especially on the power play. In each of their last four games, the Hurricanes have scored at least one power play goal (5-14). In their last seven games, they are 8-for-24 on the man-advantage. The team now ranks 17th in the League with a 16.7 conversion percentage.

“We’re moving [the puck] with authority,” Muller said. “When we’re attacking the net, we’re getting ugly goals.”

Look no further than Tuesday night, when the Canes’ two power play goals weren't exactly fit for highlight reels. Eric Staal tapped in a puck that jumped over Anders Lindback, and Tim Brent poked in a loose puck in a frantic crease scramble.

“They all don’t have to be pretty ones. It’s our execution, our sharpness and executing the plays that we talk about,” Muller said. “A power play has to have a competitive level, meaning it has to out work the penalty kill, and I think our guys have been doing that lately.”

To be successful tonight, they’ll have to outwork the sixth best penalty killing team in the League (86.2 percent). It’s no coincidence that their blocked shots and penalty killing numbers are both among the best in the NHL.

The New York media reports that the Rangers will be without captain Ryan Callahan, who ranks second on the team in scoring with 47 points (25g, 22a). The Canes still plan to counter the Rangers’ top line with a new addition to Brandon Sutter’s line in defenseman Derek Joslin.

Joslin has played the last six games as a fourth-line winger, but he’ll see elevated ice time tonight on the shutdown line. Joslin joked that it was better to have three defensemen on the ice against top lines rather than two. But if you ask Muller, it’s not even really about the defensive aspect.

“He’s earned it. He’s worked hard, he’s brought energy and he’s played hard,” Muller said. “He deserves to move up. We’ve talked about it – if you go out and play hard, you should get rewarded.”

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