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Pittsburgh vs. Carolina Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins


THE FUNDAMENTALS
Pittsburgh Penguins (14-6-4-32) at Carolina Hurricanes (12-11-2-26)

Where: RBC Center
When: Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: Pittsburgh is 1-0-0 against the Hurricanes. It will be the Penguins' first appearance at RBC Center. Pittsburgh recorded a 4-1 victory over Carolina Oct. 23 at Mellon Arena.
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Talbot-Crosby-Satan
Fedotenko-Malkin-Sykora
Cooke-Staal-Dupuis
Pesonen-Minard-Godard

Defense
Orpik-Letang
Gill-Scuderi
Eaton-Goligoski

Netminder
Sabourin


  Pens vs. Hurricanes 10/23
 
KEYS TO VICTORY
Move On: Pittsburgh suffered a bitter shootout loss to division rival New York on Wednesday night. The Penguins had a 2-0 lead in the game but couldn't prevent a Rangers comeback. While the game left a bad taste in the Penguins mouth, they must put that game behind them and focus all their efforts on Carolina.

Conditioning: This is only the third time this season the Penguins played back-to-back games. The schedule makers were kind to Pittsburgh thus far. The more they play in back-to-back games, the better they'll be at adjusting to them. For now, they'll have to fight through it as many other teams already have this season. Back-to-back road games test a team's conditioning and how Pittsburgh responds may determine the outcome.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE CANES
General Jim Rutherford was not happy when the Hurricanes became the first team in NHL history to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons after winning the Stanley Cup. Carolina finished two-points shy of a postseason berth last year despite injuries to captain Rod Brind’Amour (knee), Justin Williams (knee), Matt Cullen (concussion) and Ray Whitney (ankle). The group missed a combined 67 games but the Hurricanes still finished with a 43-33-6 record for 92 points. They were leading in the Southeast Division towards the end of the season but couldn’t hold off a surging Washington Capitals team. Carolina lost four of its last six games, two of which to Washington, and lost the division title to the Capitals by two points. Rutherford was determined to make changes if things didn’t improve. Those changes occurred on Wednesday.

On the eve of the Hurricanes’ game against the Penguins, the team made a drastic overhaul to the coaching staff. Peter Laviolette, who coached the team to that Stanley Cup championship two years ago, was relieved of his duties. Paul Maurice, who coached the franchise from 1995-2003, was named as Laviolette’s successor. Former Penguin and Hall of Famer Ron Francis was added as an associate coach. The rest of the Hurricanes’ coaching staff will remain in place. Carolina currently owns a 12-11-2 record but has lost four of its last five games and Rutherford decided it was time to shake things up.
 
NEW FACES
The newest face (sort of) will be Maurice, who held the title of head coach for the Hurricanes when they were still the Hartford Whalers. He’s the winningest coach in franchise history with 268 victories and returns after coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs the past two seasons.

As for the team, the biggest offseason move Rutherford made was sending Erik Cole to Edmonton for Joni Pitkanen. In retooling the defensive corps, Rutherford added Anton Babchuk and Joseph Melichar. The Hurricanes general manager spent most of the time re-signing players that he had acquired during the season: Joe Corvo, Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu. The return of Brind’Amour, Cullen, Williams and Whitney could be the biggest additions to this year’s squad.
 
FORWARDS
Carolina currently ranks 23rd in the league with an average of 2.56 goals per game. Veteran Ray Whitney leads the team with 17 points (7G-10A) in 25 games. Eric Staal, who will eventually become the face of the franchise if he isn’t already, has proven to be a lethal goal scorer - amassing 45, 30 and 38 goals in the last three seasons. Captain and local icon Rod Brind’Amour was lost after 59 games last season. Brind’Amour is an incredible two-way center and may be the best in the league in the faceoff circle. His production is down this year with only 14 points and plus-minus rating of minus-(-18). But at 38 years old, his experience and leadership has been a steadying influence in the Carolina locker room for the past eight-plus seasons. The team will rely on him even more now with a new head coach.

Williams has a goal-scorer’s touch. Williams’ season last year was cut short after only 37 games, but he notched 33 and 31 goals in the two years prior. He’s been sidelined with a torn right Achilles tendon on the current campaign and won’t return for another 2-4 months, which is a blow to Carolina’s offense. Carolina also re-signed forwards Tuomo Ruutu and Sergie Samsonov after trading for them last year. Ruutu is tied for third on the team with 14 points while Samsonov has eight.
 
DEFENSEMEN
The Hurricanes defense has been overhauled since last season. Longtime blue line standout Glen Wesley retired and Brett Hedican left in free agency. Rutherford traded Erik Cole to Edmonton for Joni Pitkanen. He is a big presence – 6-2, 200 pounds – and has a lot of offensive abilities. He’s played well since returning from a knee injury in November. Rutherford re-signed Joe Corvo after he scored 21 points in 23 games with Carolina after the team traded from him last season. Tim Gleason has been a physical force for Carolina’s defense but was recently placed on injured reserve with a leg injury. Frantisek Kaberle is a crafty veteran and will play in his 500th career game against Pittsburgh. The remaining minutes are divided amongst Niclas Wallin and free agent additions Anton Babchuk and former Penguin Joseph Melichar.
 
GOALTENDING
Ward is looking to get back to his Conn Smyth form during the Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup Championship three seasons prior. At 24 years old, he is still relatively young and has improved each season. Last year, he set career highs in games played (69), wins (37), GAA (2.75) and save percentage (.904). Ward’s 37 wins were fourth most in the NHL. He is currently listed as day-to-day with groin injury and will not play against Pittsburgh.

With backup John Grahame’s departure, the team inked 27-year-old Michael Leighton to a two-year deal. Leighton was the AHL Goalie of the Year last season after going 28-25-4 with a 2.10 goal against average and a .931 save percentage with the Albany River Rats. Carolina recently recalled Justin Peters, a second-round pick in 2004, from Albany to backup Leighton while Ward is out.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: ERIC STAAL
Eric Staal was selected with the second-overall pick in the 2003 draft (Marc-Andre Fleury was taken No. 1) and is the future of the Hurricanes franchise. Even though it seems like he’s been in the league for a decade, Staal is only 24 years old. He’s a big power forward (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) that can’t be knocked off the puck easily. Staal is also a gifted goal scorer with quick hands and a hard shot.

He’s going through a very rough stretch right now. He went scoreless in eight games before exploding for a hat trick against Phoenix. However, he hasn’t scored in the five games following that three-goal effort. So in his last 14 contests, he’s only scored goals in one game. Staal is due for a big game and he has had success against the Penguins in his career with 18 points (8G-10A) in 16 games. He is currently two points shy of 300 points in his career and would love to reach that milestone while playing against his younger brother.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
“For sure, they’re going to be at their best. It’s not an easy thing for a team to play against a team with a new coach. Players want to show something to the new coach. It’s a challenge.”
- Penguins head coach Michel Therrien
 
HIDDEN FACT
Thursday's game will mark the second consecutive time that the Hurricanes have hosted the Penguins in the first game after a coaching change. Carolina defeated Pittsburgh 2-1 in overtime on Dec. 18, 2003, in Peter Laviolette's debut behind the Hurricanes bench.
 

Author: Sam Kasan

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