Before embarking on a season-long, six-game road trip, the Carolina Hurricanes will look to finish strong at home.
They will have to do so against the Eastern Conference’s best team in the Ottawa Senators. Following an abnormal stretch in this compact season of three days with no games on the schedule, the Hurricanes are prepared for the deluge ahead. They’ll play seven games in the next 12 days, including two sets of three games in four days.
“We’ve got to get in a groove,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “We’re excited to start tonight, hopefully finish on a good note at home and then take it onto the road and have a big road trip.”
Dan Ellis will get the start in net, his second start in three games and first at home, as a member of the Hurricanes, at least. When he was with the Charlotte Checkers, Ellis made 28 saves in a 3-1 win over Norfolk at PNC Arena on Jan. 6. Ellis is 1-0 on the season with a 1.20 goals-against average and .963 save percentage.
“It’s a different season. He’s got the 30-plus games under his belt (with Charlotte). He’s sharp,” Muller said. “We’ve been sitting, and he’s played well when he’s been in. I thought I’d give him the opportunity to play a game at home here and give us a win tonight.”
Having three days off afforded the team a number of benefits, one of which was to juggle personnel. Justin Faulk, after suffering an upper-body injury in Buffalo on Friday and missing Monday’s game against Boston, will dress tonight.
“[He’s] good to go,” Muller said, noting he wouldn’t put a limit on his minutes. “When you’re playing, you’re playing.”
Andreas Nodl, recalled on Wednesday from Charlotte, is expected to skate with Tim Brent and Chad LaRose on the fourth line. Nodl recorded a goal and three assists in five games with the Checkers. Nodl played his first game with Charlotte after navigating in traffic from Raleigh to the Queen City. In the next four, Nodl said it was good just to get ice time, as he was even playing on the power play.
With Nodl and Faulk in the lineup, Kevin Westgarth and Bobby Sanguinetti will be the Hurricanes’ healthy extras. Joe Corvo, who played just 7:51 on Monday, will dress, and Muller said he’s putting the 35-year-old defenseman’s first four games in the rear view mirror.
“I just said to him, ‘Listen. Let’s use those first five games as exhibition. I don’t care about them. What I need you to do is bring a veteran experience to the lineup tonight. Just play your game. Have fun,’” Muller said. “It was a good time to catch a couple of guys and just get them back engaged and ready to go.”
The Hurricanes also took the three practice days to work on special teams, especially the power play, which is 3-for-26 (11.5 percent), ranking last in the Eastern Conference and 25th in the NHL. The team juggled their two units, creating more balance between the two by separating the Staal brothers and elevating Jussi Jokinen to the top unit. The message for the power play? Shots first and designed plays second. Simplicity is better, Muller said.
“We’re out-chancing everybody every night. We just have to finish,” he said. “Our group just has to relax and play the game. The opportunities have been there.”
The Hurricanes offense will face arguably its toughest test, as Craig Anderson is expected to start in net for Ottawa. Anderson is 5-0-1 with a 0.99 goals-against average and .967 save percentage. In eight career games versus Carolina, Anderson is 4-1-3 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. As a team, the Senators have surrendered the second-fewest goals in the NHL (13) in seven games.
“We don’t expect anything different,” Muller said. “We know if that he sees pucks, he’s going to stop them.”
At 5-1-1 (11 points), the Senators sit atop the Eastern Conference. Ottawa is wrapping up a set of three games in four days after topping Washington, 3-2, and Montreal, 5-1, at home on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. The Senators will be without Jason Spezza, as the 29-year-old is scheduled to have back surgery today. Even still, Ottawa has a potent offense, as they’ve outscored opponents 24-12 and 20-5 in the second and third periods alone.