Pittsburgh Penguins (40-22-4-84) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (27-31-8-62)
09-10 Season Series: Series tied 1-1 09-10 Away vs. Carolina: Penguins lead 1-0 All-Time vs. Carolina: Penguins lead 51-48-13 All-Time Away vs. Carolina: Penguins trail 24-26-7 Overtime: Penguins lead 5-3-10 Shootout: Series tied 1-1
Carolina battled early-season injuries to Cam Ward, Eric Staal and Erik Cole, resulting in the team falling from Eastern Conference Finalists in May to the cellar this season. As many of their key components have rejoined the lineup (although Ward is injured again), Carolina has begun resembling the squad which finished last season as one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch. They have currently won eight of 10 to climb within nine points of the final playoff spot heading into Wednesday’s games.
Alexandre Picard – Carolina acquired the 24-year-old blueliner from Ottawa just before the Olympic break in a package which sent Matt Cullen to Canada’s capital city. Picard is a smooth-skating two-way defender who has great size at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. He will have an opportunity to log major minutes in all situations down the stretch as he attempts to solidify a spot as one of the team’s top-four defensemen heading into next season. Picard has a ton of talent, he just needs to put it together on a consistent basis.
Brian Pothier – While it might have hurt to lose Joe Corvo to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline, Carolina picked up a very serviceable replacement in exchange in Pothier. The 32-year-old defenseman is very reliable in his own zone. Pothier has a good stick and is not afraid to mix it up in front of the net. He can also supply occasional offense. Pothier has four goals and 12 points in 44 games.
Rod Brind’Amour – One of the top two-way performers of all-time, Brind’Amour has skated out strong following the Olympic break. Prior to Wednesday he has scored in two of his past three games, giving him seven on the season. At this stage in his career Brind’Amour is more of a role player for the Canes, averaging only 12:44 of ice time. His minus-24 rating is third-lowest in the NHL.
Tuomo Ruutu – The younger brother of former Penguin Jarkko has found his NHL niche as a solid 15-, to 20-goal scorer who is not afraid to agitate the opposition. A member of Finland’s bronze-medal team in Vancouver, Ruutu has picked up a point in each of his first four games following the break for a total of five points (1G-4A) during the span. In his first full season with Carolina last year Ruuto established career highs across the board with 26 goals, 28 assists and 54 points.
Sergei Samsonov – A little jitterbug at 5-foot-8, Samsonov’s speed and quickness is a perfect fit in Carolina’s up-tempo system. The 31-year-old Russian has 13 goals through his first 55 games, putting him on pace to top last season’s total of 16. Samsonov has found a home of sorts in Carolina after bouncing around between Boston, Edmonton, Montreal and Chicago following the lockout.
Eric Staal – If anyone needed a refresher course on what kind of offensive presence Staal can be, he provided one at the Vancouver Games. Playing on a line with Sidney Crosby for much of the second-half of the tournament, Staal ranked third on the team with five assists in seven games and totaled six points. He has also been a force once again with Carolina, hitting the 20-goal plateau for the fifth-straight season. He replaced Brind’Amour as team captain on Jan. 20.
Brandon Sutter – The way Brandon Sutter has developed over the course of this season has to make Carolina feel pretty good about the 1-2 punch of he and Staal anchoring their team for the next 10 years. Still just 21, Sutter ranks fourth on the team with 17 goals. The Red Deer, Alberta native was the ninth member of his family to be drafted into the NHL when he was selected 11th overall in 2007. Like his father, Brent, and many of his uncles, Sutter is fundamentally sound defensively. At 6-foot-3, he is going to be a horse when he fills his frame out. Ray Whitney – This might have been the most popular name in trade rumors leading up to the NHL trade deadline last week, and for good reason. At 37-years-old Whitney is still one of the craftiest offensive players in the league. His next point will give him 50 for the seventh time in the past eight seasons. In addition to being a good goal scorer and solid playmaker, Whitney is talented enough to man the point on the power play. He has three goals in two games against the Penguins this season.
Tuomo Ruutu Eric Staal
Brandon Sutter Ray Whitney
Brett Carson – Recent moves by the Hurricanes to ship Joe Corvo, Aaron Ward and Nic Wallin out of town has presented a great opportunity for 23-year-old blueliner Carson. Blessed with great size at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Carson is more of a stick-on-puck fundamentally-sound defender than he is physical presence. Still, he has given the Hurricanes great minutes as he has recently paired up with Joni Pitkanen. Carson is tied for the team lead among defenseman with a plus-3 rating.
Tim Gleason – Suiting up for Team USA at the 2010 Olympics was a great forum for Gleason to display his underrated skills along the blue line. Gleason might not be the biggest guy at 6-foot, but he is a great body checker, especially in one-on-one situations. He ranks first on Carolina with 140 hits prior to Wednesday. Gleason is also adept at moving the puck up ice from his own zone. His five goals are a career high and with 19 points he is just two shy of his career high of 21 set with Los Angeles in 2005-06.
Joni Pitkanen – From time-to-time you will hear coaches talk about how plus/minus rating can be a misleading statistic. Pitkanen’s minus-11 rating is a perfect example. Such a stat might indicate the Finnish rearguard is having a down season, but that’s just not correct. Nobody is seeing more ice time than Pitkanen’s 27:12 average time on ice. Pitkanen is on pace to set a new career high offensively thanks to his 38 points (5G-33A) through 56 games. He is six assists shy of tying his career high. When he is on his game, Pitkanen is as good a skater as any blueliner in the game. He also has a rocket shot from the point.
TIm Gleason Joni Pitkanen
Manny Legace – Legace is once again holding down the fort for the Hurricanes as Cam Ward is once again on the sideline, this time with a back problem. Since Ward’s injury, Legace is a perfect 5-0 with a 1.59 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage heading into Wednesday. Legace picked up his first shutout in two years when he stopped 27 shots against the Atlanta Thrashers on March 7. An all-star with the St. Louis Blues in 2008, Legace has rebounded nicely this season with the Hurricanes after struggling in St. Louis last year.
Justin Peters – His sample size is quite small, but Peters has been great between the pipes for the Hurricanes while splitting time with Legace. Peters, 23, has posted a 3-1 record, 1.76 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in four starts. His success is somewhat surprising as he had a below-.500 record last season with Lowell of the American Hockey League, and spent the prior season in the East Coast Hockey League.
Manny Legace Justin Peters
Jussi Jokinen - Whenever fans hear the name Jussi Jokinen they automatically associate him with the shootout. And with good reason, as Jokinen’s 26 career shootout goals rank second all-time behind Atlanta’s Slava Kozlov (27). However, in his first full season with the Canes, Jokinen is proving to be an accomplished goal scorer. He leads Carolina in goals with a career-high 26 heading into Wednesday, while his team-leading 53 points are just two shy of his career high of 55 set as a rookie with the Dallas Stars in 2005-06. Prior to Wednesday, Jokinen has scored in 10 of his previous 13 games.
"It shows how much heart this team has. This team keeps building and building." - Carolina goaltender Cam Ward telling Yahoo! Sports why the Hurricanes have been one of the NHL’s hottest team of late.
“Both of them have played very well. I think they’ve kind of accepted each other in the roles that they’re playing and are pulling for each other, and that’s important for the locker room.” - Carolina head coach Paul Maurice talking to the Hurricanes official team website about the play of goaltenders Manny Legace and Justin Peters in place of injured Cam Ward.
“They’ve gotten themselves back in the picture here, and they’re playing some good hockey. They’re playing a fast game. When they’re at their best, they’re always quick. They play an up-tempo game, and we’ve seen a lot of that last year.” - Penguins center Sidney Crosby on the Hurricanes.
1.66 Combined goals-against average of Carolina netminders Manny Legace and Justin Peters over the past nine games
1-20-4 Carolina has recorded just one win this season when they trail their opponent after 40 minutes