As Monday's trade deadline looms and the twitter is chirping with updates and guesswork on what will happen between now and then, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Montreal Canadiens will face off tonight at the Centre Bell with new faces present in both the line-ups. Cory Stillman makes his second appearance with the Canes and defenseman Brent Sopel, acquired Thursday from the Atlanta Thrashers (and who won the Stanley Cup while with the Chicago Blackhawks last season) makes his Montreal debut.
Beyond the fresh blood of these two veterans, new injuries and illness are affecting the franchise centerpieces for both clubs. For Carolina, Captain Eric Staal is absent with an upper body injury suffered Friday night, and Montreal's workhorse goaltender, Carey Price, is ill and whether he can start is a gametime decision. Price is expected to be available as the back-up if he is considered too ill to be the starter. Back-up netminder Alex Auld is coming off a rough game in Toronto Thursday where he was pulled just 13 minutes in after surrendering his third goal on 9 shots.
Maurice believes Eric Staal will be missing just this one game. With concussions and head hits at the forefront of so many teams across the league these days, the subject was unavoidable.
Asked if the team felt confident Staal did not suffer a concussion after an apparent hit to the head, Maurice said, "We're not sure where the hit was but we are hoping he is on the ice tomorrow. We may not go on, but he may want to skate tomorrow."
The League announced earlier today that there will be no discipline required in the heavy hit from the Penguins Matt Niskanen that put Staal out of commission for now. Here's another look at the hit (thanks to Kukla's Korner for the link)
After the jump a look at the lines and other updates on both teams.
As for the personnel moves, Erik Cole will serve as the third alternate captain tonight. The lines will start as follows, though we may see some adjustments as Maurice feels the in-game circumstances warrant.
- Tuomo Ruutu will move up to center the top line between Stillman and Cole.
- Only Brandon Sutter 's line with Jussi Jokinen and Jiri Tlusty remains the same.
- Jeff Skinner will be centering a line, though that may be adjusted as the game goes along. Skinner will remain with Chad LaRose while recent call-up Jerome Samson will be on his left wing.
- Patrick Dwyer, returning to the role of center in Ryan Carter's absence, and Troy Bodie will remain on the fourth line, with Sergei Samsonov on the left side.
With last night's scratched defenseman Brett Carson on waivers (as required to be returned to Charlotte), we can look for the same defensive pairings we saw last night. Derek Joslin 's two-point game sealed the deal for him remaining with the NHL club, in a third pairing with the offensively dynamic Jay Harrison. The pairings of Joe Corvo and Tim Gleason, Joni Pitkanen and Jamie McBain rounds out the back end.
Cam Ward will start his 22nd consecutive game, a streak going back to January 11th. Ward is 11-5-2, with a 2.65 GAA in 18 career appearances against Montreal. He is coming off a 4-1 win at home over the Penguins last night, making 33 of 34 saves.
Season Series and context
Tonight's matchup is the third meeting of the season between the two clubs. Montreal won handily, by a score of 7-2 in November, in a rare poor showing by Cam Ward in Montreal, and that night Justin Peters was brought in late in the second period.
In Raleigh on December 23rd, the Habs emerged on top by a final score of 3-2. You'll remember that game where Cole was called for a 5-minute major for boarding Jaroslav Spacek, and two goals were scored on the ensuing power play.
Neither club has been particularly strong since the All-Star break, with the Canes bringing in a 4-5-3 record for the month of February, and barely holding on to the final position above the play-off cut line. Montreal just returned from a 3-game tour of Western Canada, and is posting a record of 5-5-2 on the month. They lost to the Maple Leafs in Toronto Wednesday with Auld getting the rare start. As mentioned at the top, Price was brought in to relieve Auld early and took the loss after the Habs came back to tie then went on to lose 5-4 .
With the uncertainty regarding who will start in goal for Jacques Martin, here are the stats for both options: Carey Price is 4-3-1 with a 2.43 GAA in eight career appearances against Carolina, while Alex Auld is 3-3-0 and has a GAA of 2.82 in six games.
A couple other notes
Jerome Samson, a Quebec native, will be playing his first game in Montreal. You have to believe that will only enhance his naturally energetic style of play, and starting on Skinner's left wing, expect some fast action there.
With his score from the slot last night, Jussi Jokinen is now one goal shy of 100 NHL goals in his career.
Skinner has not had a point in three games, not since his goal vs the Flyers last Friday night. He has had three-game pointless streaks twice this season; once in games surrounding the All-Star mania, and before that on the Western Conference roadtrip in December. He went 4 games without a point just once, back in November.
This is the second game of the Hurricanes' 14th set of back-to-back games this season. The Canes are 14-8-5 overall in such games this season, with a 8-2-4 record the first games, and 6-6-1 in the second games of those sets. There are still 7 more sets of back-to-backs remaining this season, the next coming this Thursday and Friday.
Tonight's Eastern Conference match-up is one of four games to be broadcast on Hockey Night in Canada, so the buzz surrounding the Saturday night game will be a notch higher than the normally excited atmosphere in the Centre Bell. Several Hurricanes players list Montreal as their favorite away city in which to play.
Some background stories
Cole and Stillman once were neighbors, and Stillman stayed with Cole and his family on Thursday night. "We talked about different things, about how I think he'll make an impact with our team," Cole said. "Just a little synopsis on the guys and the room we have, the type of players we have in the room ... so that he'd come in feeling a little more comfortable.
Skinner bold in 'dirty area' - NewsObserver.com (from Friday's N&O)
It was late in the second period last Friday with the Carolina Hurricanes on a power play against the Philadelphia Flyers, when Canes forward Jeff Skinner drifted between the circles, his back to the Flyers' net.
The SBN blog for the Montreal team is up at Habs Eyes On The Prize. The Montreal Gazette's blog for all things Canadien is called Habs Inside/Out and is a great place to get insight as well. Here's a couple other posts for context which seem to focus on newcomer Brent Sopel.
Sopel is expected to be in Habs lineup Saturday - Montreal Gazette Martin gave the Canadiens a day off Friday and they should be well-rested as they wait for the Hurricanes, who played the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night in Raleigh.
Hurrah for hirsute Habs! - Montreal Gazette Sopel's look, which might be described as 1980s Roadhouse, will provide welcome counterbalance to the prevailing beanshave hairstyle, personified by Tomas Plekanec and best described as 1930s Gulag.
UPDATE: Skinner Fever hits Montreal - Montreal Gazette A re-hash of the standard Skinner storylines, but interesting to see it in print in that hockey hotbed.
The 7pm game will be broadcast on FSCarolinas and on 99.9. We'll open the doors to the game thread hosted by Brian LeBlanc at 6:30. See you then!