Hurricanes Record: 14-15-9 (37 pts.)
Leafs Record: 19-16-5 (43 pts.)
The Hurricanes and Maple Leafs meet tonight for the second time this season at the Air Canada Centre. The teams will meet again in Raleigh on January 9 to wrap up the regular season series. The two faced each other on October 17, and it was an odd bounce off the end boards that ricocheted off Jonathan Bernier's skate to give the Hurricanes the unlikely finish in a 3-2 win.
The Maple Leafs come into tonight's game with the unusual fortune of having played in a team record four straight shootout decisions (splitting the record at 2-2), their most recent a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Friday at the ACC. Their 43 points is good enough for the fifth spot in the Atlantic Division, four points ahead of Ottawa for the last wild card spot.
The Hurricanes are coming off a 4-3 home overtime loss to the Penguins. For the second game in a row, the Hurricanes let a third period lead slip away. At least against the Penguins they were able to gather a point, but the three points lost over the last week loom large when it represents the difference between third and seventh in the Metro Division standings.
The Leafs have many distractions to deal with over and above the typical circus that is the Toronto hockey media. The Hurricanes are the only team standing between the Maple Leafs and a date with the Detroit Red Wings in The Big House on New Years Day. HBO will be in the building tonight and the cameras will be rolling for the Winter Classic 24/7 series. Rumor has it the Leafs are on the verge of signing captain Dion Phaneuf to a 7-year, $49 million contract.
Despite the distractions, the Leafs will look to improve on a lackluster 5-6-2 record for the month of December. Phil Kessel leads the Leafs in scoring with 35 points (18g, 17a), and the Leafs have five players in double-digit goals for the season. They rank second in the league in power play goals scored in their home arena. In his last three games, goalie Jonathan Bernier has a 1.72 goals-against average.
The Canes held a short practice at Raleigh Center Ice yesterday before departing for Toronto. There were no line changes from Friday night's game, and no decision on starting netminder or scratches in Kirk Muller's audio recap.
This road trip is the team's annual Dad's trip, and joining the team this year (per tweets from Chip Alexander) are Mark Bowman, Ron Bellemore, John Dwyer, Joe Gerbe, Kevin Gleason, Martin Hainsey, Roman Komisarek, Mark Murphy, Darrell Nash, Carl Peters, Harri Ruutu, Andrew Skinner, Ken Ward and Reg Westgarth.
Jeff Skinner has 10 goals in December (second best in the NHL for the month). The Jordan Staal line, featuring Nathan Gerbe and Alexander Semin, has been responsible for three goals over the last two games. Andrej Sekera continues to build on his career year with a goal in Friday night's game, which brought his total for the year to 7 goals and 20 points, third best on the team.
Jay Harrison (concussion) and Jiri Tlusty (appendectomy) are both on injured reserve. Anton Khudobin has been activated off IR and assigned to Charlotte on a conditioning assignment, where he is expected to play as early as tonight. Per CBA rules, he can remain in Charlotte for a maximum of 14 days, which would give him a return to the Hurricanes roster by Friday, January 10.
Both teams should skate this morning, so stay tuned for updates from those sessions.
We'll have the open game thread ready to roll at 6:30 pm. See you there.