The Tampa Bay Lightning (5-4-2) are back at the RBC Center tonight for the second time in the 2011-12 season, as the Carolina Hurricanes (4-4-3) start November ready to convert home ice advantage into wins. The Hurricanes have yet to beat a divisional foe in three games so far, beginning with the opener vs the Bolts on October 7th when the home team was embarrassed by a score of 5-1 before losing in overtime to the Capitals the following night.
In the Southeast Division, the Capitals are currently in first place with 14 points, but the Florida Panthers (13 points), Lightning (12 pts) and Hurricanes (11 pts) are all in the mix. The Caps (7-2-0) have played two less games than the others.
After Brian Boucher suffered his third loss of the season Saturday night, Coach Paul Maurice will return to goalie Cam Ward tonight. The Bolts will stick with 42-year-old backstop Dwayne Roloson, who got his season back on course Saturday with a 1-0 shutout of the Winnipeg Jets Saturday night.
Though rookie winger Zac Dalpe has returned to practicing with the rest of the team, he is still on the injured reserve with a "lower body concern", and therefore Zach Boychuk remains in the lineup. From the morning skate, the lines and pairings remain the same as we've seen the last couple games, with Tlusty on Staal's wing:
For the defense, Derek Joslin will sit out (and has yet to play this season). No changes in the pairings:
Eric Staal will be sporting a black eye but no visor despite the high stick to the face from the Chicago game Friday night. Staal continues to build on his faceoff percentages while his plus/minus stat spirals lower. In the last 3 games the Canes were 1-1-1, though Staal was notably strong in the circle winning 43 of 68 faceoffs (63.2%).
Neither Staal nor Jeff Skinner have registered a point in the last two games. Jiri Tlusty, Jussi Jokinen and Chad LaRose all have point streaks over the same two-game span.
After a tremendous game vs the Blackhawks Friday where the shutdown defensive pairing of Allen and Gleason gave up no scoring chances (made more remarkable that each chipped in key assists), they were not so good the next night vs the Flyers. Gleason gave away the puck away with sloppy passing a couple times leading to a goal against and a penalty.
With the spotlight heavy on Staal's struggles thus far, Gleason may be the X-factor in determining the Hurricanes success till Staal gets back on track offensively. With the hot shot scoring talents Tampa Bay brings every time we see them here in Raleigh, how well Gleason and Allen are able to minimize their chances could be a key to the Canes getting the win.
As a reminder of how much the defensive lineup has changed since that first game, back on October 7th the D-pairings went out as: Joni Pitkanen - Tim Gleason, Tomas Kaberle - Justin Faulk, Bryan Allen - Jay Harrison. Dave Lewis has made substantial adjustments since: McBain is back in the line up, Kaberle was reduced to 3rd pairing and PP minutes, and Allen is now getting to the top assignments. This is not even close to the same defensive corps that gave up 5 goals to the Lightning the last time.
From practice today
- Paul Maurice after practice Tuesday [Audio: 5:16]
- Dwyer, Canes ready for skill competition - Canes Now
- McBain Has Brought 'Intensity' After Being Healthy Extra - MIchael Smith, Tracking the Storm Humbled by being a healthy extra in the first three games of the season, Jamie McBain has put his best game forward since then.
- Hurricanes' power play needs a jolt - Chip Alexander, NewsObserver.com "Before our last four or five games I really liked the way our power play looked," Maurice said Sunday. "I'm not overly excited the last four or five games. We've had some chances but we've slowed down on it. On everything we do, we're not moving at the pace as we originally started."
- Canes' Staal takes stick to face, still won't wear visor - NewsObserver.com When Eric Staal took a stick in the face Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Carolina Hurricanes captain suffered a chipped tooth and a cut on the bridge of his nose. The blade came close to hitting him in his right eye.
Early season troubles with the Lightning prompted suggestions of a success hangover following their Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. After taking out the Canes in their season opener last month, they lost 5 in a row before finding a way to win, which included turning to back up Mathieu Garon for four consecutive games.
The struggles of the aging Roloson may not have been the only issue out of the gate, but certainly contributed to the Bolts poor start. That's why Roloson's shutout Saturday is such a significant building block to the Bolts making a return to the playoffs this season. After giving up 17 goals in three games, Roli got a 10-day break, and now has yet to yield one goal in the last two appearances, totaling 86+ minutes of shutout hockey.
Speaking of trends, the Lightning haven't lost in the RBC Center in their last three visits, winning every game by 2 goals or more.
Other news on the Bolts line-up includes the ongoing problems of Mattias Ohlund who is out with bad knees, which has led to suggestions GM Steve Yzerman is in the market for a strong NHL defenseman to get them through.
Big winger Ryan Malone is questionable for tonight as well. UPDATE as of 3:15pm: LW Ryan Malone says he's "good to go" against the Hurricanes (St Petersburg Times)
Tampa Bay links
- Bolts' Lecavalier, free of injuries, distractions, off to strong start | TBO.com
- Boucher: It's tough task to juggle lineup | TBO.com Shuffling the lineup is not a practice Lightning coach Guy Boucher enjoys. But through the first month of the season it has been a constant for the second-year coach as Tampa Bay continues to carry 14 forwards on the active roster.
- For more online coverage the great folks at SBN's Raw Charge are always there to help.
From the Media notes
- CAR career point-per-game players vs. TB: Jeff Skinner - seven points (4g, 3a) in seven games; Eric Staal - 53 pts (29g, 24a) in 48 games.
- Cam Ward is 16-12-2, with a 2.99 GAA in 31 career appearances against Tampa Bay. Brian Boucher is 7-6-1, with a 2.76 GAA in 15 career appearances against the Lightning.
- TB career point-per-game players vs. CAR: Vincent Lecavalier - 73 pts (31g, 42a) in 73 games; Martin St. Louis - 71 pts (35g, 36a) in 63 career games.
- Dwayne Roloson is 6-6-0 with a 2.68 GAA in 14 career games against Carolina. Mathieu Garon: 2-2-0, 3.14 GAA in 4 games.
The game starts at 7pm, and we'll have our Canes Country open gamethread posted by 6:30. Bob Wage and Brian LeBlanc will be up in the pressbox, while Jamie Kellner will be capturing the images down low.
The game will be broadcast on television by FSCarolinas (still on DirectTV thanks to an 11th hour deal announced last night) and on the radio or streaming at 99.9 the Fan.