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Sens at Canes: Game Day Preview

Kirk Muller says Eric Staal "does not have to feel that he has to carry the whole team on his shoulders." Photo from the SO loss to the Sens  Oct 25, 2011 via <a href="">Jamie Kellner</a>
Kirk Muller says Eric Staal "does not have to feel that he has to carry the whole team on his shoulders." Photo from the SO loss to the Sens Oct 25, 2011 via Jamie Kellner

The Ottawa Senators are back in Raleigh tonight and ready to extend their three-game win streak before the Christmas break. The Carolina Hurricanes will be looking to make amends for surrendering a 3-1 lead over the Phoenix Coyotes Wednesday night that ended in a tough 4-3 loss in front of the home crowd.

So, the Hurricanes are back at 15th in the Eastern Conference. While the League-wide holiday trade freeze is in effect, there is still uncertainty if the Canes are more buyers or sellers at this time. GM Jim Rutherford had said a couple weeks ago that he was actively seeking a top-6 winger, but as the playoff chances dwindle, perhaps he will hold off on making that kind of move intended to salvage the season, and instead will focus on long-term planning for seasons ahead. Carolina is 11 points out of the playoffs and is 2-6-2 in their last 10.

Key injuries aren't helping matters: Jeff Skinner and Joni Pitkanen are sidelined indefinitely with concussions. Tim Brent is a gametime decision with a LBI and if he's not ready, Riley Nash will be in the lineup again. Brian Boucher is also a ways out with a more serious lower body concern.

The Senators flew in to RDU late (as in 4am) last night following a 4-3 OT win over the Florida Panthers at home. They are missing a couple players to injury as well: Milan Michalek and Jesse Winchester with concussions and Peter Regin has re-injured his shoulder and may be done for the season.

The Hurricanes line-up

Predicting how Muller will set his lines is anyone's guess. Muller tried several variations of his forwards Wednesday night, in particular in the 3rd period after the Coyotes had tied the game at 3. Two recent recalls, Drayson Bowman and Riley Nash saw significant time and were matched with Eric Staal, who was moved over to right wing. Chad LaRose had started on the Staal's RW, but was benched over 10 minutes in the third following the 'Yotes tying goal.

Andreas Nodl saw more ice time (9:59 total on Wednesday) after he and Anthony Stewart combined for the second goal with hustle and an aggressive forecheck - will their effort be rewarded with more opportunity tonight?

Whichever, it seems Muller is still trying to tap into the most effective formula to bring success, and to achieve a full-on 60 minute effort top-to-bottom. As we've learned, he won't be hesitant to make line changes mid-game to see what sort of chemistry might come from new combinations. For him, 11 games into his new job, this team is still very much a work-in-progress.

There was no on-ice practice yesterday and this morning's skate focused on special teams.

Defensively, the pairings seem more set. Based on the last couple games, since Jay Harrison returned:

Tim Gleason - Jamie McBain
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Bryan Allen - Jaroslav Spacek

Cam Ward will start his 14th consecutive game, making 31 starts out of 36 games the Canes have played this season. Justin Peters will be the back-up.

The Senators perspective

Few hockey pundits saw the Senators finishing anywhere in the playoff mix when the season started. However new coach Paul MacLean has brought out the best in players like Jason Spezza and young defenseman Erik Karlsson who both are putting up points. Milan Michalek was sitting at the top of the League for scoring prior to his injury (incurred when he collided with Karlsson).

Spezza has 37 points so far and is tied for 7th (with Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews among others) for scoring. Karlsson's 33 points gives him a 5 point lead on second-ranked Shea Weber among all defenseman in the League.

G A P +/- PIM
2011 - 12 Jason Spezza 12 25 37 -3 16
2011 - 12 Erik Karlsson 4 29 33 0 22

The Sens currently rank 7th in the East, with a 17-14-4 record. They have beaten the Canes in the prior 2 meetings this season, the first in a shootout October 25th. The Sens second victory over Carolina, in Ottawa on November 27th, was the final game coached by Paul Maurice.

The Senators longest tenured veteran and captain Daniel Alfredsson scored his 399th goal last night. He and his team might have some extra motivation to give him No. 400 as an early Christmas present.

Last weekend, GM Bryan Murray shocked many in Ottawa by trading away another of their highly-rated young Swedish defenseman, David Rundblad, to the Phoenix Coyotes in a deal to acquire Kyle Turris - a former first rounder who was reportedly unhappy in the role Phoenix's coach had slotted for him. Turris has been credited with an assist in each of the two games he's played for his new club this week, and is +3 to boot.

The Sens called up forward Mike Hoffman on an emergency basis today and, like Nash here on Wednesday, tonight will mark his NHL debut. He is among three players leading the Binghamton club with 17 points (7 G, 10 A) this season.

Craig Anderson has been challenged in goal but has managed a winning record, not bad considering a GAA and SV % that seem weak. Despite the tough schedule and how the Hurricanes seem to be seeing a lot of back-ups this season, word is he will get the start again tonight.

2011 - 12 Craig Anderson 30 1665 15 11 92 3.32 889 797 .897 0
2011 - 12 Alex Auld 8 392 1 3 23 3.52 188 165 .878 0

Two of the Senators goals last night were scored on the power play. Ottawa is 13th in the NHL with the man advantage, clicking at an 18.4% success rate. Two of the goals against the Senators last night came when they were shorthanded. On the season, the Sens PK has struggled and is ranked 26th, killing off penalties 79.2% of the time.

For additional notes from the opposite end of the ice, be sure to check in at our SBN cohorts, Silver Seven. The Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Sun will also have gameday updates from here in town.

Here's one holiday-themed story I liked: It’s a Swedish Christmas at the Alfredsson home | Senators Extra This year, Christmas at the Alfredsson household promises to be a Swedish extravaganza.

Links and notes

  • Kirk Muller - post practice audio [4:07]
  • Gameday: Hurricanes vs. Senators - Tracking the Storm
  • Muller: Staal should not have to do it all - Chip Alexander, "Eric has got to understand that he does not have to be the one guy making a difference or the guy making the play of the game in every game," Muller said Thursday. "He is a part of the team. He just has to keep pushing. We need him playing hard and doing his part."
  • Nash content to 'enjoy the moment' - Canes Now Nash said when he came off the ice after his first shift Canes trainer Pete Friesen told him he would need stitches over the eye. "I told him, 'Any way you can stop it from bleeding without leaving the game, I'm all in favor of that,'" Nash said. "They were able to do a pretty good job on it and I was able to stay in for the rest of the game."

  • Ruutu going toe-to-toe - "When 'Ruuts' is playing hard and playing hard-nosed he's more involved," Muller said. "Because he's more involved I think there's more scoring chances. That's how he has to play. He has to be there, he has to be noticed. He can't play on the perimeter."
  • Today is the one-year anniversary of the New Jersey Devils firing Coach John MacLean who is, of course, now an assistant to Kirk Muller here in Raleigh.
  • Tuomo Ruutu has a three-game pointstreak, with 2 goals and 2 assists in that time.
  • Eric Staal has no points in the last three games and (still) owns the League's worst plus/minus rating at -21.

From the Game Notes [36 page .pdf]

  • Eric Staal has 15 points (6g, 9a) in the last 10 meetings against Ottawa and has points in nine of those contests. Staal had five points (3g, 2a) on Nov. 17, 2010 vs. OTT at the RBC Center. Staal has 29 points (11g, 18a) in 30 career games against the Senators.
  • Cam Ward is 8-7-1 with a 2.74 GAA and one shutout in 17 career appearances against Ottawa. Brian Boucher is 1-8-1 with a 3.36 GAA in 11 games. Justin Peters has not faced the Senators.
  • OTT point-per-game players vs. CAR: Jason Spezza -36 pts (16g, 20a) in 29 games; Kyle Turris -three points (2g, 1a) in two games.
  • Craig Anderson is 4-0-2 with a 3.09 GAA in six career games against Carolina. Alex Auld is 4-3-0, with a 2.99 GAA in eight games.

Planning your evening

Game time is 7pm and will be broadcast on Fox Sports on your television dial. Tune into 99.9 the Fan for the radio call. Look for the Canes Country gamethread to open up approximately 6:30pm.