Hurricanes Record: 23-19-9 (55 pts.)
Blue Jackets Record: 26-21-4 (56 pts.)
The Hurricanes have amassed an impressive 8-3-0 record to start 2014, including three straight wins, landing them in the unenviable position of fifth in the Metropolitan Division with 55 points and 10th in the Eastern Conference, a spot which an old boss of mine used to refer to as the "mushy middle." They are in good company as one of seven teams in the conference within three points of each other in the battle to keep playing hockey past mid-April.
Six games remain between now and the Olympic break:
1/27 Columbus - 56 pts, 3rd Metro, 8th East Conf, 8-2-0 last 10 gms
1/28 Montreal - 59 pts, 4th Atlantic, 5th East Conf, 3-6-1 last 10 gms
1/31 St. Louis - 75 pts, 2nd Central, 3rd West Conf, 6-4-0 last 10 gms
2/4 Winnipeg - 55 pts, 7th Central, 11th West Conf, 6-4-0 last 10 gms
2/7 Florida - 49 pts, 7th Atlantic, 15th East Conf, 5-4-1 last 10 gms
2/8 Montreal - 59 pts, 4th Atlantic, 5th East Conf, 3-6-1 last 10 gms
As it stands today, the cut line for the playoffs is around 90 points. In order for the Hurricanes to go into the Olympic break at a pace that gets them to 90 points, they need eight points out of the twelve available from the above games. Few of the match-ups favor the Canes when viewed head-to-head. Only one game is against an opponent that has fewer points. Only two games are against opponents that are currently ranked lower in league standings. Only one game is against a rival that offers a direct points swing within the division: tonight's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Canes haven't beaten the Blue Jackets in their last eight tries, and those tries have been over the course of eight years, the last win coming in Raleigh on December 15, 2005. Their best chance came on December 23rd when they were within five minutes of victory until the Blue Jackets scored two goals in the waning minutes for a 4-3 regulation win. They then went on to shut out the Hurricanes in Columbus on January 10 by a 3-0 score. They'll play twice more after tonight to wrap up their season series.
The Blue Jackets are believing in themselves, and right now they have one of the hottest records in the NHL, on a franchise record-setting eight-game winning streak before coming back down to earth with a 5-2 loss to the Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday night. They are a big, hard-working team that grinds down their opponents, obviously one that the Hurricanes have struggled to solve but must do so if they are to be successful in the division and in their playoff quest.
Though in net Saturday night before getting pulled early after giving up three goals on ten shots, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been key to the recent success, in net for all the games in the winning streak, and he is reported to get the start again tonight. Bob is 5-1-0 with a 1.67 GAA and a shutout in his six career appearances against the Hurricanes.
The Blue Jackets had to play Saturday's game against Buffalo with only five defensemen. David Savard became ill and was unable to play, and Cody Goloubef was unable to join the team due to travel issues after being called up from AHL Springfield Saturday. He'll likely be in the lineup tonight, although Tim Erixon was called up yesterday and could also be an option. Blake Comeau, out since January 9 with a knee injury, was activated from IR over the weekend and traveled with the team. In anticipation of Comeau's return, the Jackets reassigned Cody Bass to Springfield after Saturday's game.
The Hurricanes didn't practice yesterday, so as far as line-up changes are concerned, there won't be any news until after today's morning skate. With the success of the lines in Saturday's win, especially with the forward depth, few changes are anticipated unless Patrick Dwyer (day-to-day, lower body) is ready to return. Brett Bellemore has been a healthy scratch on defense for the last several days, and with back-to-back games (the Canes will fly to Montreal after tonight's game to take on the Canadiens tomorrow) he may see action.
Riding point streaks going into tonight's game are Eric Staal (5 games), Alexander Semin (5 games), Andrej Sekera (3 games), Tuomo Ruutu (2 games) and Mike Komisarek (2 games). Staal, Semin, and Jiri Tlusty have combined for 20 points in their last five games. Andrej Sekera has a career high 30 points (8g, 20a) this season and has six points (1g, 5a) in his last three games. Jordan Staal hits the 100-game mark as a Hurricane tonight.
Tonight is Public Safety Appreciation Night in the arena, and there is a pre-game event on the South Plaza featuring vehicles and equipment from the public safety sector on display. The Canes will be in their alternate black jerseys. We'll have the game thread ready to roll by 6:30 pm. See you at the rink.