Pittsburgh Penguins (20-9-1-41) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6-17-5-17)
Where: Mellon Arena When: Monday, December 7, 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, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576. *View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here() Season Series: Pittsburgh and Carolina meet for the first time at Mellon Arena since Evgeni Malkin’s hat trick helped lead the Penguins to a 7-4 victory in Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference finals. The Penguins won the only matchup thus far this season, 3-2 in a shootout at RBC Center on Oct. 14. Chris Kunitz scored the game-deciding goal in the shootout, Mike Rupp began the scoring with his first goal as a Penguin and Malkin contributed a goal and an assist. Ray Whitney had two goals in a losing effort.
Play Your Game: Although Murphy’s Law steps in at some point when it is least expected, simply throwing a 60-minute effort much like the one they threw at Chicago on Saturday night should be enough for the Penguins to get past Carolina. Heading into Monday night the Hurricanes have yet to win on the road in ’09-10, posting a record of 0-10-3.
Defend Whitney: Carolina is coming off a 5-3 victory over Vancouver in which forward Ray Whitney helped lead the way with a goal and two assists. The Hurricanes’ leading scorer last season, Whitney scored both Carolina goals in the third period against the Penguins on Oct. 14 to send the game to overtime.
LOWDOWN ON THE HURRICANES
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 swept by the Penguins in last season’s Eastern Conference finals. Injuries to Eric Staal and Cam Ward have crushed the Hurricanes this season as they have limped along to the least amount of points in the entire league through Sunday.
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 at the tail end of last season following the midseason acquisition of Jussi Jokinen and the reacquisition of Erik Cole at the trading deadline. The only new faces brought on board were depth forwards Stephane Yelle and Tom Kostopoulos, along with defenseman Andrew Alberts. Defenseman Aaron Ward was reacquired 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 the Los Angeles Kings and Montreal Canadiens, 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 winning the Cup. He never fit in as well with New York or Boston, but his tough, defensive presence is a welcome addition to the Carolina blue line. Alberts spent last season with the Philadelphia Flyers, recording 13 points (1G-12A) in 79 games.
Last season Carolina built a stable of forwards capable of receiving goals from all four lines, but pucks have not been going in at the same rate in ’09-10. Just as he did last season, Ray Whitney paces the Hurricanes offense with a team-high 18 points (7G-11A). One of the game’s true underrated point producers, Whitney is slippery in the offensive zone and always seems to be in the right areas to score big goals or setup scoring chances. He led Carolina with 77 points (24G-53A) last year. Eric Staal, older brother of the Penguins Jordan, provides a bona-fide No. 1 center. A three-time all-star, Staal had missed only one game for the Hurricanes during his first six-years, but sat out 10 consecutive games with an upper-body injury this year. A three time 40-goal scorer, Staal’s 40 tallies in 2008-09 tied for 5th in the NHL. He has only three goals in 18 games so far this year.
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. He has been one of Carolina’s bright spots this year with a team-leading (tied) seven goals and 16 points, the third-highest figure on the team. Cullen offers the versatility to join Joni Pitkanen at the point on the Hurricanes’ power play. Even though his scoring totals are down with only two goals and eight points, 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 and still takes all important late-game faceoffs. Carolina was pleased to re-sign winger Chad LaRose, whose production had increased throughout each of his four seasons. Thus far the Hurricanes haven’t gotten much bang for their buck as LaRose has found the back of the net only once. He was especially productive in the 2009 postseason, where he contributed four goals and seven assists in 18 games. Tuomo Ruutu, younger brother of former Penguin Jarkko, came to Carolina at last season’s trading deadline. A strong presence down low, he has been among the team’s most-solid performers with 17 points (6G-11A).
Carolina boasts a steady blue line that is more solid than it is spectacular, although injuries (a common theme in Carolina) have hurt them this season. Leading the way is Joni Pitkanen, acquired from Edmonton for Erik 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. Like most Hurricanes, his numbers haven taken a dip in ’09-10 as he sat out nine games earlier in the campaign. Pitkanen has eight points (1G-7A) in 19 games.
Joe Corvo’s absence the next two months following surgery will be a tough blow to the Carolina power play. He had been using his heavy shot to lead all Carolina defenders with 12 points (4G-8A). Corvo had another solid offensive season last year for Carolina, scoring 14 times and assisting on 24 others. 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. With all of the injuries Gleason has stepped up his offensive performance with four goals and five assists through 23 games. Long-time Hurricane Niclas Wallin, a mammoth Swede with limited offensive upside, teams with Gleason on the kill. Wallin is one of only six Hurricanes to play in each of the team’s first 28 games.
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 Final 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. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes Ward will be out an indefinite period after suffering a severe cut to his left leg on Nov. 7, all but crippling the Hurricanes’ playoff chances.
To help minimize the loss of Ward Carolina signed free agent Manny Legace in November. A former 37-game winner for the Red Wings in ’05-06, the 2008 all-star struggled for the St. Louis Blues last year, going 13-9-2 with an .885 save percentage before spending the second half of the campaign with their American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria. Legace is 3-4-2 with a 3.20 goals-against average and a .894 save percentage since joining Carolina. Michael Leighton, who lost both his decisions to the Penguins last year, returns as the backup for the second-straight season.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: ERIK COLE
Erik Cole was a key contributor during the regular season for Carolina when they won the Stanley Cup in 2005-06, scoring a career-high 30 goals. Following two more 20-plus goal campaigns the Hurricanes dealt Cole to Edmonton prior to last season in exchange for Joni Pitkanen. Cole struggled in 63 games with the Oilers, scoring 16 goals and 11 assists.
Carolina’s top net-front presence, Cole’s numbers improved dramatically once he was reacquired by the Hurricanes at the trading deadline and placed back on a line with Eric Staal, with whom he has great chemistry. Cole missed time earlier this season with an upper-body injury but has begun picking up his production following his return, ranking second (tied) on the team with six goals in 18 games. He registered a hat trick in Carolina’s 5-3 victory over Vancouver on Saturday night.
Injuries have crushed the Hurricanes through the first two-plus months of the season. - No. 1 netminder Cam Ward is on long-term injured reserve following a laceration to his left leg suffered Nov. 7 in Columbus. He spent two nights in a Columbus hospital after losing a large amount of blood. - Shootout-specialist Jussi Jokinen is a game-time decision against the Penguins after missing Saturday night’s game with an upper-body ailment. - High-scoring defenseman Joe Corvo is out until probably sometime in early March after undergoing surgery upon being cut on his lower leg Nov. 30 against Washington. - Winger Michael Ryan has spent the entire season on injured reserve following a preseason concussion.
"THEY SAID IT"
“We’ve got to have some success on the road and have some fun, that’s how we’re going to start moving forward.”
- Carolina forward Erik Cole addressing the team’s struggles on the road to the Hurricanes’ official team website prior to the start of their upcoming four-game road swing beginning Monday night in Pittsburgh.
POINT OF INTEREST
0-3-3: Carolina’s record in 2009-10 against the Atlantic Division.