7th is Better than 8th: Rangers at Hurricanes, Game Day Preview

In their final meeting of the season, the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers come into tonight's game in very similar positions.

  • Neither team made the post-season last year, and both teams believe they deserve to be there when the current season wraps up in forty-six days.
  • Ranked 8th and 7th in the standings, the Hurricanes are positioned 2 points behind the Rangers, but have one game in hand. If the tie breaker goes to number of wins, the new NHL rule this season that excludes shoot-out wins could kick in; currently the Ranges have 6 SO wins, while the Hurricanes have had 4, meaning the Canes have an edge.
  • Neither team has been successful stringing together a series of convincing wins since the All-Star break.The Hurricanes are 3-5-2 in their last 10 outings. The Rangers are just 2-7-1. Both teams very much want to get back on solid footing.
  • Both teams feature young leadership, and for the Rangers it is especially evident with a youthful defensive corps, the oldest of which, Dan Girardi, is a full year younger than Ptikanen or Gleason. Marc Staal, who wears an A for John Tortorella, averages the most minutes among the D but is only a year older than Jamie McBain. In the same vein, it's important to recognize how heavily both teams rely on their All-Star goaltenders.

More on tonight's game including the downloadable game guide after the jump.

    How they differ

    • Trends: Further wearing on the Blueshirts is that tonight is their fourth game in a third city in six nights. New York will be working hard to snap a two-game losing streak and hold on to the 7th spot in the East. The Canes have been on a mostly upward trend and you have to go back to February 3rd to find 2 consecutive losses in regulation.
    • Schedule: The Canes are playing their third game of four in a row at home, after the final roadtrip of the season. With a strong home record and a history of tremendous runs every spring, the optimism is building, despite the ugly loss Saturday night. When the energy and focus is there, the team seems among the best in the League. Consistency of effort is the biggest obstacle down the stretch.
    • Injuries: The Hurricanes have been fortunate to avoid the injuries that contributed to their abysmal season last year. The Rangers roster this year has been decimated with long term injuries, and their injured reserve list includes some of their strongest leaders and key goal-scorers including Captain Chris Drury, Alex Frolov, and Ruslan Fedotenko, and just Sunday sniper Marian Gaborik went out with a concussion. He did not travel to Carolina for this trip. In contrast to the Canes who have had just 49 man-games lost, the Rangers show 230 lost to illness and/or injury.

    Last time these two met was here in Raleigh, January 20th. The Canes won handily by a score of 4-1. The previous match-ups, played in New York, were split, with the Canes loss coming in OT January 5th.

     

    Hurricanes

    Cam Ward will start his 20th consecutive game tonight. He has put up some strong numbers vs New York in his career.  He is 9-7-2 with a 2.04 GAA and two shutouts in 19 career appearances against the Rangers. 

    Joni Pitkanen is good to go, having sat out the game Saturday with a lower body issue. We hear new arrival Derek Joslin will be the healthy scratch. Ryan Carter is still troubled by his back and will also sit out. We can look for Patrick Dwyer to center the fourth line with Troy Bodie and Jerome Samson as his wingers. That line looked great vs the Devils, with Dwyer getting the lone goal with an assist from Samson. Bodie had a few good chances as well, though couldn't finish.

    Jeff Skinner has put up some good numbers in his three games vs Henrik Lundqvist. He has 5 points (3 goals, 2 assists) in his 3 games. His breakaway move beating Lundqvist, with the kick-fake and the backhand topshelf , seems to make every highlight reel when Skinner's name comes up in the Calder Trophy discussion.

    Leading scorer Eric Staal will be matched up with the Rangers top defenseman Marc Staal. They don't shy away from contact when they are on the ice together. The third NHL brother, the Penguins' Jordan Staal, will be in town Friday. Eric is still on a pace for an 80-point season.

    For all the current stats and other notes on individuals, please take a look a Canes Country's Game Guide: Hurricanes vs Rangers which you can also download, print and bring with you to the game tonight.  

    Expect Paul Maurice to set up the forward lines as follows:

    Staal - Jokinen - Cole

    Ruutu - Skinner - LaRose

    Sutter - Samsonov - Tlusty

    Dwyer - Samson -  Bodie

    With Joni Pitkanen returning, Maurice is likely to go with the defensive pairings he used vs the Flyers:

    Corvo - Pitkanen

    Gleason - McBain

    Harrison - Carson

     

    Chip Alexander has his preview up at Canes Now with comments from both coaches at practice today: Canes have chance to catch Rangers

     

    The Rangers

     

    According to Andrew Gross at The RecordHenrik Lundqvistwill be the starter in goal. In his career vs the Hurricanes, he is 9-8-1, with a 2.42 GAA and one shutout in 18 career appearances. (The back up, Martin Biron, is 10-4-3, with a 2.53 GAA and one SO in 19 games.)

    The Rangers re-called Kris Newbury from Hartford Sunday to replace the injured Marian Gaborik. According to Gross, the lines on the ice this morning were:

    Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan

    Prospal-Boyle-Christensen

    Wolski-Stepan-Zuccarello

    Avery-Newbury-Prust

     

    When the Rangers were in town January 20th, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Vinny Prospal were all out with injuries, so the match-ups will be a bit different and, despite the loss of Gaborik, the Rangers are stronger up front than we saw then.

    For more sources to track the Rangers' side of the ice, the SBN blog for the Rangers, Blueshirt Banter is a great place to start. Among MSM you can check in with these two online sources Ranger Rants - Andrew Gross at The Record and the site for the New York Rangers at NYPOST.com

     

    Special Teams and other Team Stats

    The Special teams play received the most attention since the loss Saturday. The Canes have scored only once in their last - get this - 27 power plays; none in their last four games. Maurice said he thought that with the penalty Kill units having such success, but with many of the same players (Cole and Staal in particular) that perhaps the Power Play had become more a chance to rest, and lacked urgency and quickness. 

    On the season, the Canes have an 18th-best 17.1% conversion rate with the man-advantage. On the kill, the Canes are ranked 22nd, with 80.4 % success.

    The Rangers' Power Play stats are not any better; they are ranked 25th with a 16.1% conversion rate. Their PK is stronger, ranked 9th, with an 83.7% success rate. In five-on-five play, the Rangers score 1.04 goals for every goal they allow. For the Canes, that number is 0.92, only good for 24th in the NHL.

     

    • Both Carolina and New York have perfect records when leading after 40 minutes. (The Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche are the only other 2 teams who can say that still)
    • The Rangers lead the NHL with total hits credited, led by centerman Brian Boyle with 178. For comparison's sake, Tuomo Ruutu has 229, and the Hurricanes are now ranked 4th as a team for hits. 
    • Despite their youthful back-end, the Rangers do a better job than the Canes in limiting shots on goal ever getting to their goal tender. The Rangers allow 29.6/game (10th in the league) while the Canes are allowing 33.5 which puts them at 28th. The Rangers are 4th for total blocked shots on the season.

    The game starts at 7pm and will be broadcast on TV in HD by Fox Sports Carolinas and on the radio at 99.9 ESPN the Fan. We'll have the gamethread up and running around 6:30. 

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