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What to Watch For: Pens vs. Hurricanes

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (29-10-0) vs. HURRICANES (16-20-2)
WHEN: April 9, 2013 - 7:00 p.m.  |  WHERE: PNC Arena
WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins Radio 24/7, 105.9 FM

It's not going well for the Carolina Hurricanes.

After a stretch where they won six of seven in late February/early March, the Hurricanes have been reeling ever since. With their 6-2 defeat to Boston on Monday, Carolina has now lost 12 of their last 13 games (going 1-11-1), putting them 10 points behind Washington for the Southeast Division lead and the last playoff spot. Carolina has especially struggled at home, where they’ll host the Penguins on Tuesday night – dropping a franchise-record-tying seven straight at PNC Arena.

Why have they been struggling so badly? Injuries have played a major role.  They’ve been dealing with them all season, but right now the most significant one is to their No. 1 goaltender. Former Stanley Cup-winning and NHL All-Star Cam Ward suffered a sprained knee ligament on March 3 and was given a projected recovery time of 6-8 weeks. He’s missed 17 straight games. With Ward sidelined, Dan Ellis assumed starter duties and the Hurricanes recalled Justin Peters from the American Hockey League to back him up. Neither goalie has provided any consistency between the pipes.

Overall, their defense has been lacking – allowing 52 goals over that 13-game stretch. And despite peppering opposing goalies with shots – Carolina is averaging over 42 pucks to the net their last four contests – they haven’t been capitalizing on chances. Conversely, they’ve scored 20 goals during this 13-game stretch. In addition, their special teams have been disastrous – with both their power play (28th; converting 13.0 percent of chances) and penalty kill (28th; killing off 76.6 of shorthanded situations) ranking at the bottom of the league.

But despite all of that, it’s not that Carolina doesn’t have a lot of talent on their roster. They’ve shown what they’re capable of at times this season, beating the Penguins 4-1 in their last meeting on Feb. 28. Captain Eric Staal is averaging over a point-per-game, totaling 41 (16G-25A) in 38 games. He and linemate Jiri Tlusty, who scored twice and added an assist in that game against Pittsburgh, lead the team in tallies. Alexander Semin, who recently signed a five-year extension, is right there with Staal in terms of production with 36 points in 36 games. However, he sat out Carolina’s last two games with an upper-body injury.

(Getty Images)

Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Pat Dwyer
Tuomo Ruutu - Jordan Staal - Jeff Skinner
Drayson Bowman - Riley Nash - Chad LaRose
Zac Dalpe - Tim Brent - Brett Bellemore

Tim Gleason - Joe Corvo
Jay Harrison - Jamie McBain
Marc-Andre Bergeron - Bobby Sanguinetti

(Getty Images)

While the focus lay on former Penguin Jordan Staal entering the first meeting between Pittsburgh-Carolina this season, it was his brother Eric that starred in the game. The Hurricanes captain had a goal and two assists in the 4-1 win over the Penguins. Overall, he leads the team in scoring with 41 points (16G-25A) in 38 games. Look for Staal, the heart and soul of the franchise, to step up with a big performance on Tuesday with his team struggling like they are.

Morrow looked the most comfortable we’ve seen him in a Penguins uniform in his last game Saturday against the Rangers. He was a physical force throughout the offensive zone; hitting everything that moved on the forecheck, around the boards and in front of the net. Morrow leads the Penguins with 15 hits over his last three games. He’s certainly been doing damage around the blue paint, and he seems due to get rewarded with his first goal as a Penguin. It wouldn’t be a surprise if it comes Tuesday in Carolina the way he has been playing and coming off a weekend of rest.

- The Penguins begin a three-game road trip against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. These two teams will conclude the season series in the final game of the regular season on April 27.
- Tuesday’s game begins a stretch where the Penguins will play six of their final nine games on the road.
- Pittsburgh is 6-3 in its last nine games overall against the Hurricanes.
- Pittsburgh is 4-3-2 in its last eight visits to Raleigh.
- Carolina is the lone Eastern Conference team that the Penguins have yet to defeat this season.
- The Penguins' magic number to clinch their first Atlantic Division title since 2007-08 is four.

The Penguins clinched their seventh-straight playoff berth on Sunday night when the Buffalo Sabres defeated the New Jersey Devils 3- 2 in a shootout. This is the second-longest stretch of consecutive seasons qualifying for the playoffs in franchise history behind the 11-year run the Penguins had been 1990-91 and 2000-01. Pittsburgh’s streak is the third-longest active streak in the NHL behind Detroit (21 consecutive years) and San Jose (8) – and the longest among Eastern Conference teams. The Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks are the only NHL teams that have clinched playoff berths this season.

Jussi Jokinen paid immediate dividends for the Penguins in his debut against the NY Rangers on April 5. Jokinen scored the lone goal in regulation and then added the game-deciding shootout tally to lead the Penguins to their 29th win. The shootout tally was the 31st of Jokinen’s career, third-most all-time behind only Pavel Datsyuk and Zach Parise (32 each). It was Jokinen’s 10th career shootout game-deciding goal. Jokinen also starred for the Penguins in the faceoff dot, going 13-2 (87%) on draws.

Rookie Beau Bennett was recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday afternoon. The playmaking forward earned three assists in four games with WBS in his most-recent AHL assignment. Those numbers included earning the primary assist on Alex Grant’s overtime game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory over the Adirondack Phantoms on Friday night. Bennett has collected nine points (2G-7A) over his past 15 games at the NHL level. During that span, only Chicago’s Brandon Saad (0.67) and Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad (0.53) have a higher assists-per-game mark than Bennett’s 0.47 (MIN: 10 games).

This season the Penguins have gone 13-5 on the road. They have the second-most road wins in the NHL (Chicago, 15) – and the most among Eastern Conference teams. Only the Blackhawks (66 goals) have scored more goals on the road than the Penguins' 62 tallies. The Penguins also rank fourth (tied) among all NHL teams with 14 road power-play goals, while their 21.5% (14-for-65) power-play success rate ranks fourth in the league. Since head coach Dan Bylsma took over behind the bench on Feb. 15, 2009, no NHL team has posted more road wins (89), road points (194) or a better road points percentage (.630) than Pittsburgh.

Game notes courtesy of manager of communications Jason Seidling


F Sidney Crosby, broken jaw
D Kris Letang, lower body
D Paul Martin, broken bone in hand
F James Neal, concussion


D Justin Faulk, knee
D Joni Pitkanen, heel
F Alexander Semin, upper body
G Cam Ward, knee

Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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