The Carolina Hurricanes go back to work tonight, with the Toronto Maple Leafs in town for a 5pm match at the RBC Center here in Raleigh. The game will not be broadcast on FoxSports, so you'll either need to be inside the arena or locate a TV with Center Ice to see the next chapter in this tenuous November for the hometeam.
The Canes (6-11-3) have only won twice in the last 10 outings, and are near the bottom of the League standings. The Leafs are coming off a big win over the Washington Capitals last night, throttling Bruce Boudreau's talented but uninspired roster by a score of 7-1. Carolina will be hoping Toronto's momentum from the big win didn't make it through customs in the wee hours this morning.
The struggles of the Canes the last month are hardly a secret, to the point where a solid effort is not enough. They absolutely need to win games if they have any hope of making the playoffs this season. There are few people left who think it can or will happen under Paul Maurice. So, given all these ingredients, this is another "Must Win."
The Hurricanes are not skating this morning. Patrick Dwyer was injured on a rough check by the Sabres' Tyler Myers Friday and will be a gametime decision. Zac Dalpe was recalled last night to fill in if Dwyer isn't able. We were told yesterday that Cam Ward will return to net, having had a night off Friday.
The Canes line-up
With no morning skate, it would be pure guesswork on how Maurice will decide to match his players when a win couldn't be more imperative.
Toward the end of the Buffalo game, Eric Staal was double-shifted and played both with Chad LaRose and Anthony Stewart (the starting first line) and then with Jiri Tlusty and Zach Boychuk. Both of those groupings looked very good, with the advantage probably going to the Staal-Boychuk combination.
Statsgeek Corey Sznajder at Shutdownline.com figured the scoring chances from Friday's game and tells us that Boychuk led the forwards with a +4 at even strength (four more chances developed when Boychuk was on the ice than the Canes allowed). Continuing the same analysis, defensive shutdown duo Tim Gleason and Bryan Allen were tops on the team with a +6, though they saw little action in the third and the least TOI of any of the pairings.
Maurice has some options on the back end as well. Joni Pitkanen may skate today but is still out, and considered day-to-day with an injured foot. Rookie Justin Faulk remains with the team, so we know a defenseman will be scratched. I would guess it will be Derek Joslin as it has been so often this fall.
Pitkanen's ability to set up the team's breakout and quarterback the power play have been sorely missed. Faulk, brings many of the same skills as Pitkanen, and was paired with Jay Harrison Friday. Faulk also got a chance to practice on the Canes first power play unit Saturday, along with Jamie McBain (thus taking the place of Tomas Kaberle).
Also noted from practice yesterday, a few skaters (Brandon Sutter, Jussi Jokinen, LaRose and Dwyer) were absent for "maintenance;" all, except Dwyer, should be good-to-go tonight.
So, given all these moving parts, I'm 90% sure that Finns and Skins will stay intact. Here ya go:
TBD - Staal - TBD
Jeff Skinner - Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
TBD - Sutter - TBD
TBD - Brent - TBD
For the defense, I'm fairly confident that the defensive pairings will remain as they were Friday. In no particular order:
The prevalence of former Leafs on the Carolina roster got the headline in the News & Observer's game preview: Carolina a popular stop for former Leafs - NewsObserver.com. On today's roster, Tim Brent, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Tomas Kaberle, Jiri Tlusty, and Jay Harrison, and, of course, Paul Maurice can list Toronto on their hockey resumes.
Justin Faulk's return to the NHL roster was the theme this story: Faulk Logs Big Minutes - Michael Smith, Tracking the Storm
Finally, like many observers, Luke DeCock couldn't decide what we learned from the Buffalo game. A step in no particular direction - NewsObserver.com
The Maple Leafs have an injury list so long coach Ron Wilson described his roster as "decimated" Friday - thus making the beat down they gave the Caps on a Saturday night at the ACC that much more unexpected. The injured reserve starts in goal with James Reimer, their smiley faced hero of last spring and includes familiar names like Mike Komisarek, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur .
The counterpoint to those troubles in Toronto would be the remarkable chemistry between Phil Kessel (at last!) and Joffrey Lupul. The two are now the 1st and 3rd leading scorers in the league respectively and have contributed 40% of the Leafs' goals. (The Flyers' Claude Giroux has 25 points to take the #2 spot.)
|2011 - 12 Phil Kessel||14||13||27||5||4|
|2011 - 12 Joffrey Lupul||10||14||24||5||28|
With Reimer sidelined, back-up Jonas Gustavsson was the winner in net last night. It is expected that Ben Scrivens will be in goal today. Scrivens, 25, was the starting goaltender at Cornell University during Riley Nash and Justin Krueger's time there. Undrafted, he was signed as a free-agent in April 2010 and, according hockeydb.com, played 13 games in the ECHL in his first pro season.
#30 / Goalie / Toronto Maple Leafs
Sep 11, 1986
|2011 - 12 Ben Scrivens||7||366||2||3||18||2.95||178||160||.899||0|
Planning your evening
Again, the game is not going to be televised locally, though you will be able to listen on 99.9 as always. We'll have our gamethread going around 4:30 and invite you to stop by for live updates from press row.
After the game, the Hurricanes fly directly to Philadelphia where they will play tomorrow night, making the third matchup vs the Flyers this month.
Checking in on the big picture
Finally, since it's been moving around a lot of late, here are your Eastern Conference Standings today. The Hurricanes are 6 points out of the playoff spot, and 8 points behind the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers.
|1 - Philadelphia Flyers||19||11-5-3||25|
|2 - Buffalo Sabres||20||12-8-0||24|
|3- Florida Panthers||19||10-6-3||23|
|4 - Pittsburgh Penguins||20||11-6-3||25|
|5 - Toronto Maple Leafs||20||11-7-2||24|
|6 - New York Rangers||17||10-4-3||23|
|7 - Boston Bruins||18||11-7-0||22|
|8 - Washington Capitals||18||10-7-1||21|
|9 - New Jersey Devils||18||10-7-1||21|
|10 - Montreal Canadiens||20||9-8-3||21|
|11 - Ottawa Senators||20||10-9-1||21|
|12 - Tampa Bay Lightning||19||9-8-2||20|
|13 - Winnipeg Jets||20||8-9-3||19|
|14 - Carolina Hurricanes||20||6-11-3||15|
|15 - New York Islanders||17||5-9-3||13|