Look who is leading the NHL in goals scored! It's the Southeast Division's "other" Russian sensation, Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk has 15 goals and 10 assists in just 18 games so far this year and has been on a real tear of late scoring 21 points in his last 12 games. A word of warning to the Canes blueliners... don't allow Kovalchuk to skate all around the Hurricanes zone completely unfettered all night like Vincent Lecavalier did on Wednesday or else there's a very good chance that there will be another hat-trick scored.
The Carolina Hurricanes open up a 4 game home stand at the RBC Center tonight against Kovalchuk and the Atlanta Thrashers. The Canes have a respectable 5-2-1 record at home but are a mediocre 6-4 in their past 10 games overall. The Thrashers are 5-6 on the road and are 7-3 in their past 10. Cam Ward will be back in net for Carolina while I expect that rookie Ondrej Pavelec will take the honors for Atlanta. The Hurricanes have been fighting the injury bug all season and will be missing the most recently injured of the bunch, Erik Cole. It was reported yesterday that Cole would be unavailable for 7-10 days. Scott Walker is still on the hitlist and won't be available either. The good news is that Andrew Ladd is expected to play tonight. It will be the first time since the 3rd game of the season that Ladd will play. Nic Wallin has been skating and is listed as day to day, but I think it is very doubtful that he will play in tonight's game.
There are several unanswered questions about the game tonight:
- Where does Laviolette plug in Ladd?
- Can the Staal/Stillman line get back on track without Cole?
- Will Ray Whitney move back to playing on Matt Cullen's line as Luke suggests on Lord Stanley's Blog?
- Can the forwards and defensemen tighten up the defense without taking away too much from the offense?
- Will the Canes continue with a winning rebound performance after a sluggish regulation loss?
- Can Cam Ward hold off the onslaught of the skilled Thrashers shooters?
We'll find out tonight! If I see any other updates about the game, I'll try to have an update this afternoon. TGIF!