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Crossroads: Carolina at New Jersey, Game Preview

The Carolina Hurricanes are returning to the scene of the crime where they stole game seven of last year's playoff series at "The Rock" by scoring two goals in the final two minutes against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils.

Jussi Jokinen tied the game after Tim Gleason made a brilliant play, diving on the ice to keep the puck in the zone.  Joni Pitkanen then made a perfect cross ice pass to his friend who one-timed it past Brodeur.  About a minute later, Eric Staal streaked down the ice and beat Brodeur with a wrister, to wrap up the game.

The Hurricanes are approaching a crossroads of sorts, as they should be getting closer and closer to firing on all cylinders as a team.  They showed signs of that on Wednesday night against the Penguins, and the players as well as the coaching staff were happy with the performance in that game.  The big question is, can they repeat that performance again or will they take a step back?

The Canes currently find themselves just one point ahead of last place Florida, a team which beat Philadelphia last night by a score of 4-2.  Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Washington are all coming off of wins and they are in action Saturday night as well.  Carolina is riding a two game losing streak with an overall record of 2-3-1.   

New Jersey lost to Atlanta last night, so they should be fired up and ready to go against the Canes.  Between that loss and the playoff elimination, they might be a very angry team.  Martin Brodeur started last night and Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire has not confirmed yet whether he will start again tonight.  My guess is that he will. 

The Hurricanes lineup is still in question because Joni Pitkanen might return to action.  He joined the team for two days of practice this week and looked good.  It all depends upon how he feels at game time. 

Eric Staal was nursing some leg stiffness, (groin) and skipped two days of practice, but he is expected to play anyway tonight. Coach Maurice switched up the lines a bit in the third period against Pittsburgh and apparently will stick with the changes in Jersey. Look for these lines, initially:

  • Staal, Whitney, Ruutu
  • Cullen, Samsonov, LaRose
  • Brind'Amour, Jokinen, Walker
  • Yelle, Kostopoulos, Conboy
  • Gleason, Corvo
  • Pitkanen, Ward
  • Alberts, Wallin

Samsonov and Brind'Amour have had success together in the past, perhaps they will move Jokinen up with the Cullen line put Samsonov with the Captain?  On the blueline if Pitkanen can not go, Harrison will take his place and the defensive pairings could be anything.  Of course "The Rock", Cam Ward will be between the pipes.

The Hurricanes still need improvement on their powerplay as it is clicking at 11.8%, good for 27th in the league.  The good news is that the penalty kill is improving and is rated at 78.4%, which is 15th best in the league.

Ray Whitney is heating up and has a three game point streak. 

The game will be broadcast by FS Carolinas and 99.9 The Fan at 7 p.m..  Of course, we will have a Live Game Thread although I will be attending a wedding and will not be here.  Have fun without me.  (The thread is set to auto-load at 6.)


UPDATE-  It's confirmed that Martin Brodeur will be the starting goalie tonight for the Devils.

The Devils are going through some adversity themselves as team leader, Patric Elias is out hurt.  There are several unfamiliar names on their roster, but according to some at "In Lou We Trust", the lines could look like this:

Parise – Zajac – Langenbrunner
Rolston  – Bergfors- Clarkson
Pando – Niedermayer – Greene
Halischuk – Pelley – Pikkarainen

Parise – Zajac – Langenbrunner
Clarkson – Zubrus – Bergfors
Pandolfo – Niedermayer – Rolston
Halischuk – Pelley – Pikkarainen


Of course the "ZZ Pops" line is always dangerous.  After that, the goals probably do not come very easily.  But then again, this is a Jacques Lemaire coached team and scoring goals is not the primary focus.

John Fischer, (manager at I.L.W.T) and I exchanged some questions and sent the answers back in emails.  (I should have asked him what the lines would be).  Here are my questions and the answers that John provided.  (Thanks again John.)

1.  Will Brodeur start again tonight?  How has he looked so far this season?  Do you think he is still the goalie to be feared that he's been in year's past?

According to Gulitti's postgame, Lemaire will be making this decision sometime on Saturday.  He's considering it, but given that the Devils have another 3 day break between games afterwards, starting Brodeur may be the right decision.  In the first two games of the season, he's given up his share of soft goals; but he has really stepped it up on the road trip.  He was massive against Tampa Bay and Washington, not just in regulation, but also in the shootout.  He's still Martin Brodeur - the same we all know and love.

2.  How has the team compensated for the loss of Brian Gionta?  Do you feel that is an adequate long term solution?

Gionta's role fell into a second line scoring position in the last two seasons under Brent Sutter.  Given that Lemaire is rotating Brian Rolston and David Clarkson as the second line right wing around this season, getting more than decent results from either player.  I feel that the plan is to have either one of them step into Gionta's role - Rolston was my guess in the summer - and, quite frankly, I think either could work well.  It's still a battle for the position, and in terms of long-term issues, Clarkson is a RFA after this season and Rolston isn't getting any younger.  But right now one or both players could definitely put in 20 or more goals this season.  Which is what Gionta contributed all of last season.

3. How has the team responded to the coaching change?  Does there seem to be a big change in philosophy, or are things pretty much the same as before?

Given that the team has lost all 3 home games and yet won all 3 away games, it's a mixed response in terms of results.  From what I've seen across preseason and all the games up to (and not including) tonight's 4-2 loss, the Devils play similar to what they did last season.  I haven't noticed any major change in philosophy, just tweaks and variations based on what Sutter did last season.   Lemaire did not and will likely not institute a 1-2-2 or a Torpedo or any kind of system built around defensive hockey.  He actually doesn't like being pigeonholed as such, for what it's worth.  

He's having the defensemen lead the breakout, pinch in on offense, and have the Devils do more than just dump it in the corners and win the puck back along the boards - which Brent Sutter had the Devils do (and very well, I might add) most of last season.   The defense, admittedly needs some work in that regard.    In terms of special teams, and based on last night's game, much work needs to be done; but Lemaire has taken an aggressive approach as well.  Both power play units feature 4 forwards; the second penalty killing unit features the first line center (Travis Zajac) and right wing (Jamie Langenbrunner) and they are encouraged to go forward as necessary; and in their zone I've noticed that they stick to a small box.  

Clearly, the team does need some additional adjustments and work in some areas (not to mention eliminating too-man-men calls, there was one tonight and upon learning this, I wanted to scream.  I may not be sure if it's the third or fourth or whatever, but more than zero is honestly too much.)


One last item, don't forget to sign up for the new Canes Country Points.  The results are kept up automatically for us at this site.  (SPG) So far only 27 people are participating and we had several more than that last year.  It's still not too late to give it a try.  Monty is in first place so far with 9 points.