While the Carolina Hurricanes were traveling from Toronto and unpacking in their hotel in Pittsburgh, the Triangle was filling up with snow — perhaps six inches of it by the time all is said and done. So while the Canes will miss out on a little-seen Southern winter storm, they will get to play in an Igloo tonight.
Carolina faces the Penguins this evening after a dominant 2-0 performance last night vs. the Maple Leafs. The win broke a season-worst five-game losing streak and seemed to instill confidence in a team that has clearly been lacking it for more than a week.
The Pens, on the other hand, have won three of four — including two in a row — after a stretch that saw them lose seven of eight, including a five-game skid of their own.
Pittsburgh is led by young dynamos Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who stand first and tied for second, respectively, in league scoring. The problem has been secondary scoring and a battered defense. Pittsburgh has gotten 17 goals from Petr Sykora and 14 more from Jordan Staal, but on a team that boasted wave after wave of scoring in the playoffs last year, this year's output seems thin. They have received a recent boost on their back end with Ryan Whitney rounding into form after missing most of the first half of the season, but they're still without their best defenseman, Sergei Gonchar. That being said, there is still some skill on the Pens' blueline, courtesy of unpolished but talented youngsters Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski.
Like Carolina goalie Cam Ward, Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury registered a shutout in his last outing. Fleury recently got some competition in net when the Pens dealt backup Dany Sabourin along with prospect Ryan Stone and a draft pick to Edmonton for more established netminder Mathieu Garon. Fleury is expected to start, while Ward will backstop the Canes after his blanking of Toronto and the All-Star break on the horizon.
For Carolina, last night's win will hopefully be a turning point for a team that had lost its way. It's hard to find much fault in the win over Toronto. Ward was spectacular, the team killed off a 5-on-3 Leafs power play, scored themselves with the extra man, and overall showed three balanced scoring lines along with a fourth line that continues to hold the play during limited ice time. Expect the same Hurricanes forward lines and a hard-fought battle, pitting Eric Staal against baby brother Jordan.
Adam has a scouting report for us:
So how do you beat a team that has beaten you twice already in the season and has the top two point producers in the NHL? Let’s hope the Hurricanes have an answer, but here’s some things that might help.
It is almost impossible to stop Crosby and Malkin, and with those two potentially playing on the same line, this task becomes even more difficult. Carolina will need to play physical against these two primarily, but also against the rest of the team. Crosby, while known for some dirty antics, has shown he can be rattled by physical play, and if that is what it takes to get him off his game, then Crosby, meet Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruutu. Malkin can handle the physical play more so than Crosby, but keeping a body on him will limit his abilities.
Something else the Hurricanes will need to do is keep their sticks on the ice and in passing lanes. While the Penguins do boast some impressive skill, they are last in the league in shots per game. They will attempt to make the fancy play instead of shoot. If the Hurricanes defense can tighten up and the forwards help out on the backcheck, they will limit those passes and make for an easier night for Ward.
Items to Watch: The intensity level of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. His consistency has always been questioned and this year has been no exception. But since the arrival of new backup Mathieu Garon, Fleury has raised his game and seems to have found his groove, though it has only been two games. Maybe the push of a more than adequate backup has helped to elevate Fleury's game.
Also keep your eyes on Petr Sykora. For a team with both Crosby and Malkin, you wouldn't think he would be second on the team in goals. Maybe playing with those two has helped. Sykora, while perhaps not known to many, has always been a solid producer. He also has a knack for scoring at the right time as evidenced by his six game-winning goals this year. Sykora has a deadly accurate wrist shot and likes to set up in the slot/half wall on the power play to get it off. If the Canes can eliminate some of those passes, they also take away his wrist shot.
Thanks to Adam for the insight.