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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Hurricanes

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (13-7-0) vs. HURRICANES (9-8-1)
WHEN: February 28, 2013 - 7:00 p.m.  |  WHERE: PNC Arena
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM

The matchup we’ve been waiting for is finally here. The Penguins will face old friend and teammate Jordan Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes for the first time this season on Thursday at PNC Arena.

For lack of a better word, it’s going to be – well, weird – seeing Staal in red and white as he became an integral part of Penguins history after spending six NHL seasons in black and gold. Staal, now 24, was taken second overall in 2006 by Pittsburgh – the first draft selection by then newly-hired general manager Ray Shero – and broke into the league as an 18-year-old rookie. He went on to become part of the successful three-center model with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but more importantly he was a key member of the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup championship team. (Revisit some of Staal’s best moments in Pittsburgh here).

Jordan and Eric Staal
But Staal wanted a chance to play with his brother Eric, so the Pens traded Jordan to Carolina at the 2012 NHL Draft for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the No. 8 overall pick (Derrick Pouliot). Staal signed a 10-year, $60 million deal with the Hurricanes shortly after and slotted right in as Carolina’s second-line center. He leads the ‘Canes with 11 assists and ranks second in team scoring behind captain Eric with 15 points. Jordan had a slow start with his new team, scoring just one goal in his first 12 games, but now has three in his last seven. Thursday will be especially emotional for Sutter as well, as he will be returning to Carolina for the first time since the trade. He spent four seasons with the Hurricanes after they drafted him 11th overall in 2007.

The ‘Canes recently went on a 5-0-1 streak from Feb. 4-14, but have since dropped four of their last five games. Despite that, they’re still right in the tight Southeast Division race and currently hold first place with 19 points. The ‘Canes added another talented forward in addition to Jordan Staal this offseason in former Capital Alex Semin, who inked a one-year, $7 million deal in the offseason. The skilled Russian, often described as enigmatic, has been doing well playing wing next to Eric Staal and has 14 points (4G-10A) in 18 games.

Right now, the ‘Canes had been dealing with a lot of injuries, but it looks like they'll be getting a bunch of players back for Thursday's game. The 2011 Calder Trophy winner and NHL All-Star Jeff Skinner missed the last 6 games with a concussion, but had been skating with the team the last few days and will be in the lineup against Pittsburgh. Carolina had been especially decimated on the back end, as top defensemen Tim Gleason, Joni Pitkanen and Jamie McBain have all been out. But the team announced Thursday morning that Gleason and McBain would join Skinner in making their returns versus Pittsburgh. The one player that absolutely will not be back Thursday is Tuomo Ruutu, as the forward will miss the entire regular season after undergoing hip surgery.

Longtime goalie Cam Ward has kept the ‘Canes afloat through injuries before, and they’ll be counting on him to be consistent more than ever this season. Ward does well when seeing a high volume of shots and can steal games for his team; he can also produce absolutely mind-boggling saves like the one he pulled out on Tuesday in a loss to the Capitals (WATCH IT HERE). Ward has strong career numbers vs. Pittsburgh (11-5-3) so expect to see him in goal on Thursday. The ‘Canes brought in veteran goalie Dan Ellis this season to be his backup.

(Getty Images)

Jordan Staal will be seeing a lot of old friends and teammates for the first time when his former team visits Carolina on Thursday. He certainly has a lot of fond memories from his six seasons with the Penguins, but his loyalties are with a new team now and the Hurricanes need to snap their recent losing skid. The big center has a history of turning in big performances when needed most, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all if he has a monster game against the Penguins.

Thursday will likely be more emotional and weird for Sutter than it will be for Staal, as he’ll be back in front of the fans he spent four seasons playing for, back in the arena and the city he called home for four years and playing against guys he developed into an NHL player with. He was a big part of their team, serving as an alternate captain, and the trade was a big shock for him. But he’s had time to get used to his team and surroundings and looks comfortable in black and gold. Let’s see how he responds in his return to Carolina, where he’ll likely be tasked with shutting down the Staal brothers.

Thursday the Penguins and Hurricanes meet for the first time since making a blockbuster draft-day trade that saw Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and a 2012 first-round draft pick (Derrick Pouliot) come to Pittsburgh in exchange for Jordan Staal.

Sutter has been arguably the Penguins’ most reliable two-way forward, finishing plus or even in 18 of 20 games, ranking second among team forwards with 17 blocked shots and posting a career-best 50.8% faceoff success rate.

Staal ranks second on the Hurricanes in scoring behind his brother, Eric. His 0.83 point-per-game average marks the third-straight year he’s improved upon that number.

Sutter played four years with Carolina, tallying 107 points (53G-54A) in 286 regular-season games. His best season was 2009-10 when he established career highs across the board in goals (21), assists (19) and points (40).

Staal, the first-ever draft pick made by GM Ray Shero in 2006, finished his Penguins career with 248 points (120G-128A) in 431 regular-season games. He had 36 more points (23G-13A) in 73 playoff games. He helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009 and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy in 2006-07 and the Selke Trophy in ’09-10.

The Hurricanes have allowed three or more goals in eight out of the last 12 against Pittsburgh, going just 1-5-2 in those games.

Last season the Penguins won the final three games of the season series against the Hurricanes after Carolina won the first contest. Last year the Penguins recorded 40-plus shots in all four games –totaling 173 shots for an average of 43.3 per game. Pittsburgh held the Hurricanes to an average of 25.5 shots.

Pittsburgh is 6-2 in its last eight games overall against the Hurricanes.

Pittsburgh is 4-2-2 in its last eight visits to Raleigh. The Penguins have averaged 35 shots in those games.

Ten of the last 14 games between the Penguins and Hurricanes have been one-goal games (six overtime shootout games during that span).

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin skated in Pittsburgh for roughly 30 minutes on Wednesday morning. It's the first time he's conducted physical activity since suffering a concussion last Friday in a game against the Florida Panthers. Full update here.

F Evgeni Malkin, concussion

F Tim Brent, lower body
D Tim Gleason, lower body
D Jamie McBain, upper body
D Joni Pitkanen, lower body
F Tuomo Ruutu, hip surgery
F Jeff Skinner, concussion

Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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