Hurricanes Record: 25-20-9 (59 pts.)
Jets Record: 27-25-5 (59 pts.)
Division rivals for many years, the Hurricanes and Jets are now split by conference and will face each other just twice this season, tonight's game being the first of the two.
For the Jets, the big story is the return to Raleigh of Paul Maurice, who was the Whalers/Hurricanes bench boss for 920 games across 13 NHL seasons. After a successful coaching stint in the KHL followed by a role as an analyst for TSN and the NHL Network, Maurice was hired on January 12th as the Jets interim coach after the firing of Claude Noel. The hope was that Maurice would set this young team back on a steady course. And ten games into his coaching tenure, with an 8-2-0 record, Maurice is fielding a team that has speed, size, and solid defense, giving up only 21 goals in their last ten games.
The Jets are playing their second game of a four-game road trip, winning in Montreal on Sunday before heading to Raleigh. They held a full morning practice yesterday but several players (Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Devin Setoguchi, and Toby Enstrom) did not skate. All are expected in the line-up tonight.
Wheeler (22g, 23a) and Bryan Little (17g, 28a) are tied for the team scoring lead with 45 points. Wheeler has 12 points in his last 10 games. Captain and ex-Cane Andrew Ladd has six points in his last five games. Michael Frolik has goals in two straight games.
Forward Evander Kane has been placed on injured reserve with a hand injury and will be out of the lineup until after the Olympics. Forwards Jim Slater (hernia), Matt Halischuk (forearm) and defenseman Grant Clitsome are out of tonight's game, and defenseman Paul Postma (blood clot) is on a conditioning assignment in the AHL.
Projected line-up (based on Montreal game):
The Hurricanes enter February coming off their best month (10 wins) since March 2009, capping off the month with a solid 3-1 win against Western Conference powerhouse St. Louis Blues on Friday night. After wins last night by the Blue Jackets, Flyers, and Red Wings, the Canes wake up this morning in fifth place in the Metro division, three points out of a playoff spot but with games in hand. With the playoff pace now projected to push at least 91 points for the division, the Canes will need at least four points out of the next three games in order to stay at a playoff pace at the Olympic break.
Talk coming into tonight's game has centered around the goaltending. After missing the entire month of January with a lower body injury, Cam Ward was activated from injured reserve last Thursday and spent the weekend in Cleveland with the Charlotte Checkers where he stopped 59 of 63 shots for a .937 save percentage in two games. Ward returned to Raleigh yesterday for practice and he'll be eligible to rejoin the lineup today. In yesterday's post-practice interviews he announced that he was ready to "rock and roll".
Meanwhile, all Anton Khudobin did was post a 10-4-0 record in January (three of those losses coming in shutouts by the opposing team), with a 2.19 GAA and .927 save percentage, good enough to earn him the NHL's First Star for the month, an award that hasn't been given to a Hurricanes player since March 2009 when the recipient was... Cam Ward. Dobby is 12-4-0 for the season, and among Hurricanes goaltenders with at least 15 games played, his 2.16 GAA is a franchise best.
Kirk Muller hasn't divulged tonight's starter ahead of time, but indications are Khudobin will remain in net, with Ward backing up and perhaps getting a look in one of the upcoming weekend's back-to-back games. Khudobin has never faced the Jets in his career; Ward is 21-11-4 with a 2.99 GAA and one shutout in 37 career games.
Alex Semin led the Hurricanes in goals (7) and points (13) in January. He and Eric Staal are point-per-game players against the Jets.
The forward lines and defensive pairings were not changed from Friday's game as of yesterday's practice:
A few news clips for your pre-game clicking pleasure:
- January 2014 Monthly Report [ch.com].
- Kirk Muller [audio] and Paul Maurice [video] from yesterday's practices.
- On Cam Ward's return [ch.com] and [N&O]
- Relive Anton Khudobin's First Star Month [ch.com].
- On Paul Maurice's return to Raleigh [N&O].
- Jiri Tlusty will be the guest of Mike Maniscalco at the Backyard Bistro Canes Corner tomorrow night [details here].
- The Hurricanes held their annual Casino Night fundraiser benefitting the Kids 'N Community Foundation, raising over $282,000, a new record [and a few photos].
We'll have tonight's game thread ready to roll by 6:30 pm. See you at the rink.