The Carolina Hurricanes are arguably the NHL's hottest team. Tonight's opponent, the New York Islanders, sit last in the overall NHL standings, close to acquiring the first overall pick and miles away from a return to the postseason.
The Canes will be looking to extend their eight-game winning streak — and franchise-best 11 straight home victories and continue their push for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Many fans on Long Island would welcome a loss if it meant being one step closer to acquiring draft gems John Tavares or Victor Hedman. But don't expect the current Islanders to buy into that line of thinking, especially with team MVP Mark Streit returning to the lineup after missing three games and veteran (In Isles terms) Sean Bergenheim also rejoining the team.
As for the Hurricanes, there are a few lineup changes of note. Canes Now reports Patrick Eaves will return to the lineup, replacing Ryan Bayda, and Frank Kaberle will play in place of Joe Corvo, who skated this morning but is not at full strength.
Also missing again will be center Matt Cullen, who will sit for the sixth straight game. Both Cullen (3-1-4, plus-4) and Corvo (four assists, plus-5) have thrived against New York this season, so Carolina will need to supplement their production elsewhere. The good news is Chad LaRose (four goals, plus-7), Ray Whitney (1-4-5, plus-4) and Eric Staal (three goals, plus-5) have also fared well against the Isles in the previous three matchups.
One thing that won't change is the man between the pipes. Cam Ward will make his 27th consecutive start tonight, looking to break the team record of 38 wins in a season he currently shares with ex-teammate Martin Gerber (2005-06 season). While Ward has allowed nine goals in the three previous games vs. New York, he has a .922 save percentage and three wins to show for it.
For the Isles, Streit has been their biggest weapon against the Canes this season, scoring two goals and adding an assist — all on the power play — in the three previous meetings. Also worth noting: Andy Hilbert (three assists) and Freddy Meyer (a goal and assist in one game).
Yann Danis is expected to start in net tonight. It would be his first time facing the Canes this season. Joey MacDonald has struggled in two games vs. Carolina, going 0-2 with an inflated 4.83 goals-against average and scary-low .826 save percentage.
In other news, the Isles signed ex-Cane Doug Weight to a one-year, $2.2 million extension today, keeping the veteran on Long Island for another season.
The game starts at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on FS-CR and 99.9 The Fan.