The Carolina Hurricanes (3-3-2) are back at the RBC Center tonight when they host the Ottawa Senators (3-5). The Canes limped back home this weekend after losing the last two games on the road over the weekend. The afterglow of their previous 3-game win-streak has vanished.
Tonight's match-up is the first of two consecutive home games for the club - something they haven't enjoyed yet in the 11-12 schedule. With 5 of the next six in Raleigh, this would be the right time for the team to reverse momentum and establish a stronger record in the Conference standings.
In contrast to the lingering questions around Carolina's ability to win, Ottawa arrives feeling great with two consecutive wins, over Winnipeg Jets and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Jason Spezza was named the NHL's second star of the week yesterday with "seven points over three games, Spezza is currently ranked third in league scoring behind Toronto's Phil Kessel and Vancouver's Daniel Sedin."
With both Zac Dalpe and Anthony Stewart sidelined by injuries, Zach Boychuk has been recalled from Charlotte for tonight's game. Boychuk was not on the ice for this morning's skate. Checkers writer Paul Branecky just reminded us on Twitter: Boychuk's also had some luck against the Senators, recording his only NHL multi-goal game in Ottawa last season. Is it possible he might get a shot on Staal's wing, as he did in that game in Ottawa?
With two ugly losses and eight defensemen, there's plenty of speculation about roster moves that might be in the works behind the scenes.
Getting Staal going is another theme this week as his league worst plus/minus of -10 leaps off the stats page. Staal was asked about his troubles thus far yesterday. I posted Dave Droschak's story yesterday and here are two more asking questions to the Captain:
- Staal's start slow - Chip Alexander, NewsObserver.com "Over the course of Eric's career he's dealt with some very serious family issues and he's dealt with them very well," Maurice said. "It was a hockey play, a clean play. I'm sure he has that concern as you would for a family member, and he feels for him as a professional hockey player, but he certainly has not let on that it's bothering him."
- Staal leads Hurricanes into battle against Senators - Peter Koutroumpis, Raleigh SportsExaminer.com "For me, it’s being in on the forecheck - being able to come through the neutral zone with speed. That’s a big part of my game. Whether it’s on the rush or just getting in the zone first, and getting in on the battle and starting to control the puck. That’s a big part of my game."
- Also from yesterday: Paul Maurice - post practice Monday: Comments on Stewart's LBI, Faulk's recall, mixing up the top 6 forwards. [Audio, 4:47]
- This morning's audio: Maurice added some more about why Boychuk, and his personal take as a victim of an eye injury and what happened to Chris Pronger last night, Eric Staal's slow start. [6 minutes]
- With Boychuk recalled, the Canes also announce that Zac Dalpe has been placed on injured reserve.
Gameday: Hurricanes vs. Senators - Michael Smith, Tracking the Storm Head Coach Paul Maurice looks for confidence from Eric Staal, not a break-out game.
The lines at the skate this morning were:
And for the defense (Derek Joslin and Justin Faulk will be healthy scratches):
With no news to the contrary, Cam Ward will start with Brian Boucher manning the gate.
What's new in Ottawa
The Sens have a few injuries that affect their line-up tonight. Captain Daniel Alfredsson, 38, is taking a game of to rest a chronic hip flexor problem. Peter Regin (shoulder) and Bobby Butler are also out.
The Ottawa franchise is in full-on rebuild mode and is starting the season with plenty of rookies and almost-rookies on their roster, many of whom are well into their twenties.
Among forwards there are a couple true rookies Colin Greening and Stephane Da Costa plus Erik Condra, Zack Smith and Bobby Butler (out with injury) who each have less than 80 NHL games on their bios. Kaspar Daugavins has been called up to replace Alfredsson tonight. This will be just the second career NHL game for the 23-year old Latvian, with his first back in the 2009-10 season.
If any of those names sound familiar, it's from their run to the Calder Cup with the AHL Binghamton Senators, including a series sweep of the Charlotte Checkers last spring.
Another newcomer, Zenon Konopka is a gritty 4th line veteran signed over the summer to play a similar role to Jarkko Ruutu who was traded away last February. Some were surprised that it wasn't newly acquired Russian sniper Nikita Filatov getting the call-up from the minors to fill in for Alfredsson.
On the blueline, highly regarded rookies David Rundblad and Jared Cowen are just breaking into the League, and along with Erik Karlsson, who is in his 3rd year as a pro, all three are 21 and under.
The youngest rookie is Mika Zibanejad, the Sens 6th overall pick in June. At 18, he signed an Entry Level Contract this summer. Tonight marks his 9th NHL game. It may be his last as management is evaluating whether they want to return him to his native Sweden for another year of experience or burn the first year of his contract now in 2011-12.
The only other rookie would be 53-year-old head coach Paul MacLean. He was an assistant to Mike Babcock in Detroit the last 6 years before winning out over several candidates last June to secure the bench boss position in Ottawa.
From the Ottawa Citizen
On the defense it should be the youngsters Karlsson, Cowen and Rundblad with veterans Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba.
Again like with the Canes, nothing official, but I'm assuming Craig Anderson will start for MacLean, with Alex Auld as the reserve.
From the Media Notes
• Carolina has won the last seven games between the teams at the RBC Center, outscoring Ottawa 28-9 in those games. The Sens have only netted one goal in six of the last seven meetings. Ottawa's last win in Raleigh came on Dec. 12, 2007 (6-0).
• Eric Staal tallied five points and had a hat trick in Carolina's Nov. 17, 2010, win against Ottawa at the RBC Center. Staal's first goal was his 200th NHL goal.
• Cam Ward is 8-6-0 with a 2.72 GAA and one shutout in 15 career appearances against OTT. Brian Boucher is 1-8-1 with a 3.36 GAA in 11 games.
• OTT point-per-game players vs. CAR: Jason Spezza - 33 pts (13g, 20a) in 27 games.
• Craig Anderson is 2-0-2 with a 3.47 GAA in four career games against Carolina. Alex Auld is 4-3-0, 2.99 in eight games.
For more online coverage, I can recommend the Silver Seven blog or the SBN Senators vs Hurricanes gamepage. The Ottawa Citizen also does a thorough job.
Planning your evening
If you are able to get to the game, a reminder that it's the Carolina Hurricanes' night to dedicate some funds and attention to the Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness cause.
If you can't make it to the game, we'll have our Canes Country gamethread up at 6:30 and everyone should consider themselves welcome to join the conversation. The game will be televised on FS Carolinas and on the radio over at 99.9 the Fan.