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Pittsburgh vs. Carolina Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (5-1-0-10) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (2-3-0-4)

Where: RBC Center
Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
The Penguins won the season series, 2-1-1, with a 1-0-1 mark at RBC Center. These two teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Penguins swept the Hurricanes in four games and outscored them 20-9.




Pens 4, Canes 1 - 5/26/09
Game Highlights
AP Recap
Shots on Goal: With one Stanley Cup already on his resume, Cam Ward has established himself as one of the premier netminders in the National Hockey League. When he gets into a zone, it can be almost impossible to get any rubber past the 6-foot-1 Ward, so it is imperative to fire as many pucks as possible his way. The Penguins successfully did this against him during the playoffs, posting shot totals of 31, 41, 39 and 24. Through their first five games in 2009-10, Carolina has given up an average of 33 shots per game, eighth-worst in the league.  

Cycle the Puck:
When the Penguins are really at the top of their game, all four lines employed by Dan Bylsma have the capability to control the puck deep behind the opposition net by virtue of their power-cycling game that becomes almost impossible to defend. This was especially true against the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Penguins need to take advantage of smallish Carolina defenders Joe Corvo and Tim Gleason, who have shown in the past they struggle coping with the Penguins’ size advantage at forward.  

Carolina has proven to be either a feast or famine team the past seven years, advancing deep into the playoffs the three times they have qualified, but missing the postseason tournament altogether on four other occasions. Carolina lost to Detroit in the 2002 Stanley Cup Final, came back to capture their only Stanley Cup championship following the league’s return from the lockout in 2005-06 with a thrilling seven-game victory over the Edmonton Oilers, and were, of course, swept by the Penguins in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.

The Hurricanes were limping along last season prior to firing head coach Peter Laviolette in early December and replacing him with a familiar face, his predecessor Paul Maurice. Maurice was head coach when Carolina advanced to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final. Carolina caught fire under Maurice, finishing the season 33-19-5 under his direction. Maurice, who spent two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs between tenures with Carolina, recently coached his 900th career game in Saturday night’s 5-2 loss at Tampa Bay.
Carolina didn’t make a ton of wholesale changes during the offseason, electing to maintain as much of the chemistry built the tail end of last season following the midseason acquisition of Jussi Jokinen, and the trade deadline reacquisition of Erik Cole. The only new faces brought on board were depth forwards Stephane Yelle and Tom Kostopoulos, along with defenseman Andrew Alberts. Defenseman Aaron Ward was re-acquired from the Boston Bruins for Patrick Eaves.

Yelle has proven to be one of the better fourth-line centers throughout a 13-year career that has seen him twice win Stanley Cups (1996, 2001) with the Colorado Avalanche. Never a big point producer, Yelle is usually good for 7-10 goals and 15-20 points a season. Kostopoulos spent 79 games in a Penguins’ sweater between 2001-2004, scoring 10 goals. Since leaving Pittsburgh he has seen full-time duty with Los Angeles and Montreal, developing into a gritty, bottom-line defensive specialist.

Ward, a member of the 2005 Hurricanes’ championship squad, spent his best years with Carolina before leaving for a big deal with the New York Rangers after that season. He never fit in as well with New York or Boston, but his tough, defensive presence will be a welcome addition to the Carolina blue line, where his high comfort level should improve his play. Alberts spent last season with the Philadelphia Flyers, recording 13 points (1G-12A) in 79 games.

Carolina has built a lineup that receives contributions from all four lines on any given night. Eric Staal, older brother of the Penguins Jordan, provides a bona-fide No. 1 center to lead the way. A three-time all-star, Staal has missed only one game for the Hurricanes during his six-year career, while three times hitting 40-or-more goals, with his 40 tallies in 2008-09 – tying for 5th in the NHL. Staal saw his production increase dramatically last season following Cole’s return to Raleigh. Cole spent a disappointing 63 games with the Edmonton Oilers, scoring only 16 times and posting 27 points. Returning to the team where he had scored 20-plus goals three-consecutive seasons, Cole averaged almost a point-per-game down the stretch (15 points in 17 games). Cole, however, will miss the next four-to-six weeks with a leg injury, moving Scott Walker back into top-line duty.

Second-line center Matt Cullen had one of his best seasons in 2008-09, scoring 22 goals, second-highest total of his career, despite playing in only 69 games. Cullen offers the versatility to join Joni Pitkanen at the point on the Hurricanes’ power play. Rod Brind’Amour continues to play effectively at age 39. The long-time Carolina captain is one of the best shutdown centers in NHL history. His offensive numbers have dipped down into the 50-point range each of the past two seasons, but he is tied with Jussi Jokinen for the team lead with two goals on the young season. Carolina was pleased to re-sign winger Chad LaRose, whose production has increased throughout each of his four seasons. LaRose set career highs with 19 goals and 31 points in ’08-09. He was especially productive in the postseason, where he contributed four goals and seven assists in 18 games.   

Carolina boasts a steady blue line that is more solid than it is spectacular. Leading the way is Joni Pitkanen, acquired from Edmonton for Cole before last season. Noted for his offensive skills, Pitkanen saw his defensive game take tremendous strides forward in his first season in black and red. Pitkanen finished the season with 33 points (7G-26A), a seven-point increase over his previous season with the Oilers. Pitkanen’s plus-11 rating was his best mark since posting a plus-22 for Philadelphia in 2005-06.

Joe Corvo, who the Penguins saw a lot of when he played for the Ottawa Senators, quarterbacks the power play. Corvo had another solid offensive season last year for Carolina, scoring 14 times and assisting on 24 others. He recorded 22 of his points via the man advantage. Tim Gleason, on the smaller side at only 6-foot, but a solid 217 pounds, is Carolina’s best defensive defender. Gleason posted a plus-3 rating last season while handling most of Carolina’s penalty-killing chores. Long-time Hurricane Niclas Wallin, a mammoth Swede with limited offensive upside, teams with Gleason on the kill.

Cam Ward originally burst onto the scene during the 2006 postseason, when he took over goaltending chores for Martin Gerber and led the Hurricanes all the way to the Stanley Cup championship. For his efforts, Ward took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP. Since then, he has seen his regular-season numbers improve each season.

Ward nearly backstopped Carolina into the finals again last year before running into the Penguins. A workhorse down the stretch, Ward started the final 28 games of the regular season, finishing with a 19-7-2 record during that streak. He was NHL Player of the Month for March when he was an astounding 10-1-2 with a miniscule 1.98 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage. Ward won both games he started against the Penguins last season, and is 9-3-1 all-time in the regular season against Pittsburgh.

Michael Leighton, who lost both his decisions to the Penguins last year, returns as Ward’s backup for the second-straight season. 

Veteran forward Ray Whitney continues to rank among the most underrated players in the NHL. Whitney led the Hurricanes in scoring during the ’08-09 season, reaching the 70-point plateau for the fourth time in his career. He finished with 24 goals and a team-best 53 assists, playing in all 82 games.

Listed at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Whitney has quietly posted outstanding numbers throughout his 18 seasons. Barring injury, Whitney will play his 1,000th career game next Wednesday, Oct. 21, when the Hurricanes invade Long Island to face the Islanders. Entering the ’09-10 season, the deft playmaker has registered 303 goals and 508 assists for 811 points. The former two-time all-star’s next goal will be his 100th as a member of the Hurricanes, with whom he has put up 278 points (99G-179A) in 297 games.

"You start by taking too many penalties, then you get into these back-to-back nights, now you're from behind. But we're also not spending enough time in the offensive zone. ... We're spending too much time on our heels in the defensive end and the neutral zone."  

- Carolina head coach Paul Maurice summarizing the team’s early-season play to the Raleigh News-Observer following a 5-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Saturday.

-23: Rod Brind’Amour’s plus/minus rating in 2008-09, easily the worst figure of his 20-year career. 

Author: Jason Seidling

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