Good afternoon hockey fans. Tonight the Pens are in Raleigh for a showdown with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Tonight’s game is the proverbial 4-point swing as both teams are embedded in a tight race for the playoffs. The Pens are 2 points out of the final Wild Card position in the East with 45 (although there are 3 teams they would have to leap to claim that position). The ‘Canes are right on the Pens’ heels, just 2 points behind them with 43 on the year.
“We need points. We know where we’re at in the standings,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We are aware of the circumstances. It’s important for us to continue to climb.
“We’ve talked a little bit with our guys about this stretch of games before the All-Star break and the opportunity with that stretch of games. We’ve got to maximize that by playing the right way. It’s starts with tonight’s game.”
MORNING SKATE DEETS There appear to be no lineup changes for tonight’s game. The Pens used the following workflow…
Marc-Andre Fleury was the first goaltender off the ice.
SPECIAL TEAMS The last time the Pens and Hurricanes squared off, Carolina skated away with a 2-1 victory in Pittsburgh, thanks to special teams. The ‘Canes scored both of their goals on the power play and it ended up being the difference in the game.
“Their power play has been pretty good – it was certainly good against us the last time we played them,” Sullivan said. “That was the difference. Our penalty kill has to be up to that task and making sure we continue to get it done on the penalty kill.”
The Pens’ PK has certainly been up to the task lately with 25 consecutive kills. Forward Eric Fehr believes that the Pens played well on the PK last time out against the Hurricanes, but were the victims of unfortunate bounces.
“I think one went off my pants and into the top corner. Stuff you can’t really prevent,” said Fehr, who has a career-high 3 shorthanded goals this season. “We were in good positioning and we’re going to try to keep it the same. We rely on our goalies to make that one or two big saves. That’s the important thing. The power play is going to get chances. You’ll have an open shot and our goalies have been there for us.”
The key for the Canes power play is their point man: Justin Faulk. And here will be the focal point of the Pens’ PKers. The 'Canes All-Star pointman is 2nd in the NHL with 12 power-play goals.
“They have a good power play and some great players,” forward Matt Cullen said. “It starts with Faulk on top with the way he can shoot the puck and a lot of guys that can make plays.”
On the flip side, the Pens’ power play is also starting to catch fire. They’ve scored at least one man-advantage goal in 8 of their last 10 games. Pittsburgh has gone 11-for-32 (34.4%) in that stretch.
“Special teams is huge,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “Our power play has to find a way to have an impact on the game. If we don’t score we at least have to create some momentum. We have to make sure we continue what we’ve been doing. It’s not going to get any easier. So it’s just making sure we stick with the program.”
CULLEN RETURN Speaking of Cullen, he played three-plus seasons for the Carolina Hurricanes and was a member of the ‘Canes 2006 Stanley Cup championship team. As the Hurricanes celebrate their 10-year anniversary of that title, Cullen reflected on his memories.
“The best was Game 7 when nobody sat down the entire game,” Cullen said. “Being able to win the Cup on home ice after that year, it was a magical year in every regard. It was such a special run.”