Hurricanes Record: 10-11-5 (25 pts.)
Canucks Record: 13-10-5 (31 pts.)
The Hurricanes and Canucks square off today for the first of two meetings this month. They'll play here in Raleigh this afternoon and meet again in Vancouver on December 9th. The teams haven't faced each other since December 15, 2011, a 4-3 home win for the Hurricanes.
Both teams are coming off 5-2 losses. The Rangers foiled yesterday's return of head coach John Tortorella to face his former team by rattling off four unanswered goals in the first two periods and the final outcome was never in question. Contrast that with Friday night's game where the Hurricanes took a 2-1 lead and a power play into the third period on Friday only to give up four unanswered goals in the third period to the Devils.
Head coach Kirk Muller reiterated in Friday's post-game comments and in yesterday's post-practice comments that his team played solid for 50 minutes but did not play a complete game, several players didn't play the whole rink, and the Devils were stronger on the puck and won more battles. Practice Saturday was short but intense, with much dialogue along with the drills.
Manny Malhotra did not practice yesterday but skated briefly beforehand and should be in the line-up today. Malhotra played three seasons for the Canucks, where he suffered the eye injury that eventually led to parting ways with the Canucks and the circuitous route that brought him to the valuable role he now occupies on the Hurricanes fourth line.
With Malhotra's absence yesterday the third and fourth lines shifted at practice. Elias Lindholm centered a line with Jeff Skinner and Radek Dvorak, and Riley Nash centered Kevin Westgarth (who is now eligible to return after serving a two-game suspension) and Drayson Bowman.
Otherwise there were no changes to the line-up from the game Friday night. Cam Ward will likely start in net. Ward and Justin Peters took a majority of the formal practice drills, and Peters stayed for extended practice along with Anton Khudobin, who was worked into practice with limited reps and appears to be a few days away from a full team practice.
Andrej Sekera, who missed Friday's game with an upper body injury, did not practice and is doubtful for today's game. Alexander Semin (concussion) did not skate yesterday and is still day-to-day with his return. Tim Gleason (lower body) is also still day-to-day.
Vancouver is playing their third game of a four-game road trip that started with a 5-2 win against the Ottawa Senators Thursday before the loss to the Rangers Saturday. After today's game they will wrap up their road trip against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.
The Canucks have 31 points (versus the Canes with 25) but that is only good enough for fifth place in a strong Pacific Division. They are going through a bit of a slump with a 2-5-3 record in their last 10 games, but they've been strong against the Metro Division, posting a 6-2-1 record.
Even though the Canes and Canucks reside on opposite coasts and have met infrequently over the last few seasons, there are certainly spots of familiarity. As previously mentioned, Manny Malhotra spent three seasons with the Canucks. Head coach John Tortorella is very familiar having coached against the Canes for thirteen years between his tenure with then-division rival Tampa Bay Lightning along with the Rangers. Roberto Luongo has faced the Canes 27 times in his career. The Canucks roster features three former Hurricanes players: Andrew Alberts, Zac Dalpe, and Jeremy Welsh (coincidentally, all three were healthy scratches yesterday and unknown if they'll play today).
Perhaps the most provocative story line is the return of Eric Staal and Alexander Edler to face each other for the first time since Edler's hit knocked Staal out of the 2013 IIHF World Championships with an MCL injury. Edler was suspended for the hit during the tournament (and will miss two games in Sochi as well) and received further discipline this season for a hit on Tomas Hertl in a game against the San Jose Sharks on October 10th. Meanwhile, Staal was able to rehab his knee injury without missing any NHL games, but admitted his speed was off to start the season. Don't expect ill will from Staal, but the story will make for high drama regardless.
Roberto Luongo got the hook early Saturday after giving up three goals in 10 shots, but replacement Eddie Lack didn't fare much better, giving up two goals on 14 shots. Luongo is 11-8-5 with a 2.41 GAA and .911 save percentage; Lack is 2-2-0 for the season with a 2.49 GAA and .906 save percentage.
The Canucks have the number one rated penalty kill in the NHL, which should pair nicely with the Canes 27th rated power play.
Canes promos for today feature special family night ticket packages, a South Plaza party before the game, and Slap Shot Sunday afterwards. We'll have the game thread ready to roll at 12:30 pm. See you at the rink.