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Pittsburgh vs. Carolina Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins


 THE FUNDAMENTALS
Pittsburgh Penguins (23-20-4-50) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (22-20-5-49)

Where: Mellon Arena
When: Tuesday, January 20 at 7:30 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 2-0-0 against the Hurricanes. It will be the Hurricanes second appearance at Mellon Arena. In the previous meeting, Pittsburgh recorded a 4-1 victory Oct. 23.
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Cooke-Crosby-Malkin
Satan-Staal-Kennedy
Minard-Jeffrey-Sykora
Bissonnette- Thomas-Godard

Defense
Scuderi-Whitney
Eaton-Letang
Gill-Boucher
(Goligoski)

Netminder
Fleury


Pens vs. Hurricanes 12/4
Dupuis 1/20
Crosby 1/20
Therrien 1/20
Cooke 1/20
Kennedy 1/20
Morning Skate Update 1/20
 
KEYS TO VICTORY
Flower Blooming: Marc-Andre Fleury has been in a groove the past two games. He's made 54 saves and surrendered only one goal in that span to lead the Penguins to back-to-back wins. If he continues his hot play, Fleury can carry Pittsburgh to victory.

Passion: Pittsburgh was the better team for the entire 60 minutes against the Rangers. The Penguins weren’t doing anything special tactical- or systematic-wise. Pittsburgh was simply playing with passion. They skated hard, fought for loose pucks, played physical and even roughed it up with the Rangers at times. The Penguins need to carry that passion into their matchup with Carolina.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE 'CANES
General manager 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 just 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. Carolina started the year with a 12-11-2 record, losing four of those last five games and Rutherford decided it was time to shake things up. The Hurricanes made a drastic overhaul to the coaching staff. Peter Laviolette, who coached the team to a Stanley Cup championship two years ago, was relieved of his duties. Paul Maurice, who coached Carolina 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 remained in place. Following the change, Carolina responded with a 10-9-3 mark. Carolina snapped a five-game losing streak with a 2-0 win in Toronto on Monday night.
 
NEW FACES
The newest face (sort of) is 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. Maurice coached the Toronto Maple Leafs the past two seasons.

As for the team, the biggest offseason move Rutherford made was sending Cole to Edmonton for 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 Rod Brind’Amour, Matt Cullen, Justin Williams and Ray Whitney could be the biggest additions to this year’s squad.
 
FORWARDS
Carolina currently ranks 23rd in the league with an average of 2.52 goals per game. Veteran Ray Whitney leads the team with 38 points (14G-24A) in 46 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. Staal has a team-best 19 goals and 34 points - second most on the team. Captain and local icon Rod 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 26 points and minus rating of minus-(-29). But at 38 years old, his experience and leadership has been a steadying influence in the Carolina locker room for the past eight seasons.

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 was sidelined for the first 25 games of the season, which was 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 27 points while Samsonov is fifth with 23.
 
DEFENSEMEN
Carolina has struggled with keeping the puck of its own net. They are allowing 3.00 goals per game, ranking 25th in the NHL. The Hurricanes’ defense was overhauled from 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. Pitkanen is tied for the blue-line lead in scoring with 21 points (4G-17A).

Rutherford re-signed Joe Corvo after he scored 21 points in 23 games with Carolina after the team traded from him last season. The blueliner is tied with Pitkanen with 21 points (8G-13A). Tim Gleason has been a physical force for Carolina’s defense. Frantisek Kaberle is a crafty veteran and with over 600 games of experience. 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), goals against average (2.75) and save percentage (.904). Ward’s 37 wins were fourth most in the NHL. He came up with 35 saves against Toronto for his second shutout of the season on Monday. Ward currently has a 17-14-3 record, 2.62 GAA and .909 save percentage.

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.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: RAY WHITNEY
Ray Whitney is in the tail end of a 15-plus-season career. The 36-year old has compiled 293 goals, 479 assists and 772 points in over 950 games. Two years ago, at 34, Whitney tallied 32 goals and 51 assists for 83 points in 81 games for the Hurricanes. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound forward has always played bigger than his size. Whitney leads Carolina with 38 points on 14 goals and 24 assists this season and has always been a Penguin-killer. In 35 career games against Pittsburgh, Whitney has tallied nine goals and 27 assists for 36 points. 
 
"THEY SAID IT"
“Stay the course. We have the players to come out of this. There obviously has to be some adjustments in games, and we have to start to get some breaks. But I’m not actively trying
to move players.”
- Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice told the Raleigh News & Observer about snapping the team’s five-game losing skid
 
STAT PACK
300: The number of consecutive games Eric Staal has played.
 

Author: Sam Kasan

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