After a solid effort secured a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres at home last night, the Carolina Hurricanes (14-21-7) are back at it tonight in Nashville. The Predators (21-15-4) will be rested and waiting; their last outing was Thursday when they were defeated by the Dallas Stars 4-1.
The Hurricanes have struggled mightily on the road, particularly since Muller arrived. The only road win they've seen with Muller was back in Edmonton a month ago. Overall Muller's team is 1-4-2 when away from Raleigh. Another challenge is getting 2 wins in a row - something the Canes have only done once for the new coach, when they beat Ottawa and New Jersey on either side of the Christmas break.
This morning the team announced that Drayson Bowman was reassigned to the Charlotte Checkers. It sounds like Patrick Dwyer is good to go and further, that Kirk Muller intends to leave the lines as we saw them last night intact, with Jussi Jokinen remaining on the top line at wing with Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu.
This will be Kirk Muller's first chance to coach against the organization that gave him his first shot as head coach for a professional hockey team last summer. Muller was the coach of the Pred's AHL affiliate in Milwaukee when Jim Rutherford hired him away to take over in Raleigh on November 28th.
One of the most encouraging signs from last night's game is that Eric Staal seems to be back in force. He now has 8 points in his last four games, including another 3-point contribution last night. Add in winning 70% of his faceoffs and contributing major minutes to both the PP and PK units, and the Captain was getting it done.
No wonder Muller is sticking with Ruutu and Jokinen even if that means the youngster Drayson Bowman loses his spot, at least for now.
With Bowman back with Charlotte, it seems Brett Sutter, who made his first NHL appearance under Muller last night, will remain as the 4th line center. Sutter42's most significant contribution last night came when he drew the highsticking penalty that led to the Justin Faulk power play goal to open the scoring last night. In the faceoff circle, Sutter won 2 of 5 draws for 40%. He also saw over 9 minutes TOI, more than a fourth-liner would normally see in such an important and tight game.
In his postgame comments last night, Muller "kidded" that skating the team everyday this past week may have been a factor in the complete 60-minute top-to-bottom effort last night. It seems somehow related that the team just announced that indeed the Canes will skate at 12:30 ET today - something you don't often see in back-to-backs with travel.
Unless I hear otherwise, you can assume these are the lines tonight:
I lean towards believing Cam Ward will get the start again tonight, but that's not an obvious choice to me. We'll let you know if Justin Peters gets his second start for Muller since his remarkable 48-save losing effort vs the Penguins a couple weeks ago. Peters has never faced the Preds.
Ward's limited record vs the Nashville club is not encouraging - but with such a small sample anything can happen. He has never won vs the Preds, with a record of 0-4-1 with a 2.97 GAA and .908 save % in 5 appearances.
Canes Country Radio - Brian LeBlanc spoke with Pred's blogger Jeremy K.Gover of Section303.com about the state of the team. Great insight for tonight's game and the long term situation with impending UFA's Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
Game Notes (41 page pdf) providing all sorts of nuggets about individual point streaks and series history. Chad LaRose and Brandon Sutter are your only Canes with point-streaks, both at 2 games.
Predators view of things
The Predators find themselves in a tight race in the Western Conference, where they currently sit at 9th. With the resurgence of the St. Louis Blues under Ken Hitchcock, they are currently a disappointing 4th in the highly competitive (if you don't count Columbus) Central Division.
They need this win badly after the ugly loss at home to the Stars, and the Hurricanes will need to be prepared for their heavy grinding game. Shea Weber rejoined the club after missing a week or so with a concussion.
Ryan Ellis, a young defenseman who was recently recalled from Milwaukee (where of course he played for Muller) remains with the club. Ellis, the 11th overall pick in 2009, has 4 NHL games on his resume registering nothing but 2 PIM so far. He is a small defenseman (5-10, 179 lbs) with a reputation built on his offensive acumen. In other words, watch him to get a taste for how Ryan Murphy will look in the NHL, though Murphy's skating ability and stick-skills are more highly rated. Unlike Murphy, Ellis was chosen to play for Team Canada at WJC - for 3 years.
Also don't overlook the offensive contributions that Jordin Tootoo has been making lately. As Dirk Hoag puts it in his preview over at On the Forecheck
The man of the hour these days is Jordin Tootoo, who is enjoying a career season and is perhaps Nashville's hottest scorer these days, with 6 goals and 10 assists in 19 games dating back to November 22 vs. Edmonton. He has at least one shot on goal in 22 straight games, and is doing all this despite ranking 9th among Nashville forwards in average ice time.
The Preds young backup goaltender Anders Lindback was recently reassigned to Milwaukee - who by coincidence are hosting the Charlotte Checkers with Zac Dalpe and Drayson Bowman in Wisconsin today. So it seems we are certain to see Pekka Rinne in the pipes for Nashville coach Barry Trotz.
In only two appearances, Rinne has been a tough one for the Canes to solve, having won both games and allowing just 3 goals total.
|2011 - 12 Pekka Rinne||36||2029||19||11||4||89||2.63||1072||983||.917||3|
|Career vs Canes Pekka Rinne||2||125||2||0||0||3||1.45||49||46||.939||0|
Other great sources in Nashville
The Tennessean's Josh Cooper is your #1 MSM outlet, including this morning piece looking at Muller's brief stint with the Nashville organization: Time with Nashville Predators left mark on Carolina Hurricanes coach | The Tennessean ★★★★★
Planning your evening
The game will be broadcast by Fox Sports with a start time of 8PM ET. If you prefer to hear the lilting intonations of Chuck Kaiton when "Ruutu steals the puck from Tootoo" 99.9 the Fan will be a solid option as well. We'll have out game thread open for business about 30 minutes prior to the start.