HURRICANES (6-12-3) at PENGUINS (15-4-2)
TV: FS-CR, ROOT
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will enter a home-and-home series against a Metropolitan Division rival for the second consecutive weekend on Friday.
The Penguins will face the Carolina Hurricanes at Consol Energy Center before travelling to Raleigh for a second matchup a day later. Pittsburgh played consecutive games against the New York Islanders a week ago, when they went 0-1-1.
The Hurricanes are one point out of the division’s basement and don’t seem to pose as much of a threat as New York, which is tied with the Penguins atop the division, but Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston said Carolina should not be taken lightly.
“They’re a quick team, for sure,” Johnston said. “And it’s a combination of preparing, as we have done with other teams, preparing for Carolina, but also, as we did this morning, reviewing our game. And we have to get our game moved up in a couple areas. So, each week basically, we’re taking two or three areas and saying this is what we have to focus on as a team and this is what our opponent does.
“And they are a quick team. They’re a quick team down low below the dots. They bring pucks to the net. They spin off checks really well down low there.”
The Hurricanes are 2-10-2 when they fail to score first and 1-8-2 when trailing after one period. Pittsburgh has consistently started fast, scoring first in 17 of its 21 games, and are 12-3-2 when doing so.
“It means a lot,” Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist said. “We get the lead, get the momentum and then everybody gets going. You get confidence in your group and that’s what we want. Hopefully, we can get that lead tonight again.”
Carolina will attempt to end a three-game losing streak against the Penguins. The Hurricanes have lost six of their past seven games and would benefit themselves by starting strong.
“You look at their numbers overall, whether they score first or not, in the first period, they’re a very dynamic team,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. “Obviously that was a problem with us in our last game. It can’t be a problem for us this weekend or moving forward. In the [NHL], if you’re playing from behind, you’re usually going to make it a tough night, tougher than it needs to be.
“So, we need to start on time tonight and I’d love to get on the boards first.”
The Hurricanes slightly tweaked their lineup, swapping forwards Elias Lindholm and Alexander Semin, who will play first- and second-line right wing respectively. It seemed defenseman Jay Harrison might be inserted into the lineup after skating alongside Michal Jordan on Thursday with Tim Gleason being the extra defenseman, but Gleason was reinserted into his normal position during morning skate.
Peters announced goalie Cam Ward will start on Friday with Anton Khudobin most likely starting on Saturday. Ward will face Marc-Andre Fleury, who has started in each of Pittsburgh’s previous 10 home games and in 17 of its 21 games overall.
Here are the projected lineups:
Jiri Tlusty – Eric Staal – Elias Lindholm
Nathan Gerbe – Riley Nash – Alexander Semin
Jeff Skinner – Victor Rask – Andrej Nestrasil
Zach Boychuk – Jay McClement – Patrick Dwyer
Andrej Sekera – Justin Faulk
Ron Hainsey – John-Michael Liles
Tim Gleason – Michal Jordan
Scratched: Brad Malone, Chris Terry, Jay Harrison
Injured: Jordan Staal (broken fibula), Brett Bellemore (lower body)
Nick Spaling – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – Blake Comeau
Jayson Megna – Brandon Sutter – Steve Downie
Zach Sill – Marcel Goc – Craig Adams
Paul Martin – Kris Letang
Olli Maatta – Christian Ehrhoff
Rob Scuderi – Simon Despres
Scratched: Robert Bortuzzo
Injured: Pascal Dupuis (blood clot), Beau Bennett (lower body)
Status report: The Penguins’ line combinations and defensive pairings will remain unchanged. Bennett, who is expected to miss a couple weeks with a lower-body injury, did not participate in their morning skate … Bellemore (lower body) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Jordan was added to the lineup in his absence.
Who’s Hot: Comeau scored a hat trick in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday. He has scored eight goals, three more than he scored with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season … Before being held without a point against the Florida Panthers Wednesday, Eric Staal had scored in four or his previous five games. He scored three goals and six points over that stretch.