The Carolina Hurricanes could gain back their team-leader in ice time and their second leading scorer tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Justin Faulk, who has missed the team's last nine games with a sprained MCL, was activated from injured reserve today. Faulk has tallied three goals and seven assists in 28 games this season. He leads the team in average ice time per game with 23:23.
Forward Alexander Semin, who has tallied 36 points, including a team-leading 26 assists, has missed the team’s last two games with an upper-body injury. Head coach Kirk Muller said Semin could get back in the lineup tonight.
“My belief is that he is in [the lineup],” Muller said of Semin’s status, noting there were a few health-related question marks with a few unnamed players.
Semin’s return would come a fortuitous time, as the Hurricanes have scored just three goals on their last 136 shots.
In the team’s decisive 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 28, the first line of Semin, Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty combined for eight points (3g, 5a); Semin had two assists.
“Up until this stretch, we pretty much competed with everybody in the East,” Muller said.
Dan Ellis, who relieved Justin Peters at the 7:58 mark of the first period in Boston last night, will get the start in net, Muller said. In four career games against Pittsburgh, Ellis is 2-0 with a 2.84 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.
Tonight is the second of three meetings between the two teams this season. The Hurricanes will close out their regular season in Pittsburgh on April 27, which will mark Jordan Staal’s return to the Steel City.
The Hurricanes will attempt to avoid the wrong side of history, as the team is on the verge of setting a franchise record home losing streak. Saturday’s loss tied the team record of seven games, set from Dec. 27, 2002 through Jan. 20, 2003 (0-6-0-1). The current stretch of seven straight home losses in regulation is a franchise record. The team is also still searching for it's first win in the month of April, which has dealt five straight losses.
But even in such a wretched slide, the team’s morale is not shattered.
“The guys have not thrown in the towel. They’re battling,” Muller said. “All in all, I don’t think anyone can watch our team play right now and say the guys aren’t giving it all they’ve got.”
Though each loss seems to be an exact blueprint of the one before it – a game in which the Canes control play early on, out-shoot and out-chance their opponents, yet fall behind into a hole they cannot work out of – the message to the players has remained consistent.
The shots, the chances and the effort are there. The results, unfortunately, aren’t.
“The message is … we’ve got to stay the course, stay at it, stay consistent and find ways to get different results,” Muller said. “It’s definitely a test on the will power. Who is fighting through it? Who can battle through all of this?”