The Carolina Hurricanes couldn't have asked for a much better start to the 2010-11 season. Not only did the team sweep the Minnesota Wild in the two-game NHL Premiere event in Helsinki, Finland, but the Canes returned to North America healthy and happy — and with some questions answered.
Can Cam Ward bounce back from an injury-riddled 2009-10? His 41-save performance in Game 2 of the European roadie would seem to indicate yes.
Can the young guns — specifically Jeff Skinner — cut it in the NHL? When it comes to Skinner, absolutely. But Carolina also got solid performances from fresh-faced forwards Zac Dalpe and Drayson Bowman, plus Jamie McBain and Anton Babchuk looked ready to pick up where they left off from the last time they pulled on a Hurricanes jersey.
But the real questions begin Thursday, with Carolina facing a better opponent — don't be fooled by Ottawa's 0-2-1 record — in a rowdy NHL building after a week-long layoff. The game is the first of five straight on the road back in North America while the North Carolina State Fair rolls into Raleigh.For the Senators, things haven't gone as well. Ottawa dropped its first two games of the year to division foes Buffalo (2-1) and Toronto (5-1), then fell to defending Presidents Cup winner Washington in overtime Monday, courtesy an Alex Ovechkin extra-session winner.
Their lackluster start has pundits asking GM Bryan Murray if changes are forthcoming. The team's biggest addition, defenseman Sergei Gonchar, is yet to make a significant impact on the Sens blueline, the offense has managed just four goals, and grinders Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil are the only players with more than one point. Furthermore, captain Daniel Alfredsson is banged up — though will play — with a lower-body injury suffered in the OT loss to the Caps.
Some good news for the Sens is Pascal Leclaire has performed well despite starting the season 0-2-1, though Sens coach Cory Clouston has said No. 1B goalie Brian Elliott would start either Thursday's game against Carolina or Saturday's road game in Montreal. (Update: The Ottawa Sun is reporting that Clouston will put Leclaire in net tonight)
Silver Seven will have more information about the Sens.
Carolina should ice a similar lineup to the one that won two games in Finland, though forward Sergei Samsonov is expected to play after missing the European trip because of a neck sprain suffered in an exhibition game against Atlanta. Tuomo Ruutu is also injured, but should play for the Canes. Coach Paul Maurice said backup Justin Peters will likely get a start during the road trip, but expect Cam Ward to get the nod vs. Ottawa.
- Ottawa is one of three teams without a power play goal this season, joining Florida and Montreal who are both goalless with the man advantage through two games. The Senators are 0-for-14 in their first three games. Carolina is 2-for-10.
- Carolina's penalty kill was off some in Finland, allowing three goals on 10 Minnesota chances (70 percent kill rate). Ottawa has allowed two goals in 15 opponent opportunities (86.7).
- The Senators’ 1.33 goals per game ranks second to last in the league, trailing only Anaheim’s abysmal 0.67 goals mark. Carolina is tied for 16th with five other teams at 2.5 goals per game. Carolina's 2.00 goals-against average is tied for seventh, while Ottawa's 3.33 is tied for 21st.
- The Sens are averaging just 25 shots per game, tied with Dallas for the third fewest in the league. Carolina is 11th with 34 shots per game, but is 25th in shots allowed at 35.5. Ottawa is 19th in shots allowed with 33.3.
- Carolina is far and away the league's worst faceoff team, winning just 36.2 percent of their draws — nearly 7 percent less than No. 29 Anaheim (43 percent). Ottawa, on the other hand, is third best at 55.6.
- Ottawa is yet to score in the first period this year, while Carolina has been held without a goal in the third.
- Joni Pitkanen and Gonchar are among the early season leaders in time on ice, with Pitkanen ranking second in the league (28:39) and Gonchar seventh (27:55). Chicago's Duncan Keith leads at 31:47, and Carolina's Joe Corvo is 11th at 25:57. Eric Staal ranks fifth among NHL forwards (22:16).
Players To Watch
- Ottawa: Elliott is 3-1-0 against Carolina in his career, boasting a 1.82 GAA and .928 save percentage (Leclaire is just 1-3, 2.91, .904); Mike Fisher has scored 10 goals in 29 career games against the Hurricanes, good for 0.34 goals per game, significantly higher than his career average of 0.25.
- Carolina: Corvo has five goals and two assists in nine career games against his old team; one-sixth of Tom Kostopolous’ 48 career goals (eight) have come vs. Ottawa in 22 career games.
The game begins at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast in HD by FSN and on 99.9 The Fan.