Hurricanes Record: 2-2-2 (6 pts.)
Blackhawks Record: 3-1-1 (7 pts.)
They are, of course, the defending Stanley Cup Champions. We know their names: Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Keith and Seabrook, Crawsome. They dominated the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season before winning it all last June. They arrive in town having swept two New York teams at home over the weekend (3-2 win over the Islanders on Friday night, 2-1 win over the Sabres Saturday night), and after the short trip to Raleigh they will return home to take on their division rival (and as of this morning undefeated) St. Louis Blues. It would be so easy for them to overlook the team most hockey pundits predicted to finish last in the Metropolitan division, especially one whose last showing (5-3 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes here in Raleigh on Sunday) was so lackluster.
Here's why they shouldn't.
--- The Blackhawks haven't won in the state of North Carolina since 1998.
--- The Hurricanes have earned points in 11 of their last 12 games against the Blackhawks (9-1-2 since 2000).
--- The Blackhawks' leading points producer is Patrick Kane, with 4 goals and 5 points. That's good enough for a tie for 43rd place in league points standings. Jeff Skinner is tied for 7th in the NHL with 7 points, and Nathan Gerbe has just as many points as Patrick Kane, with only one less goal but one more assist.
--- Justin Faulk and Duncan Keith are toe-to-toe in terms of TOI and points from defensemen.
--- Chicago ranks 30th (yep, dead last in the league) on the penalty kill (64.3%).
--- Cam Ward's record against the Blackhawks has been stellar: 3-0-1 with a 0.98 GAA and two shutouts.
Those stats obviously involve a little cherry-picking, but the point is that the Hurricanes can match up against the Blackhawks. In order to do that, the Canes must click on all cylinders and that involves stepping up in a few areas, one being production from the top line. Eric Staal and Alexander Semin were point-per-game producers last season and they will be relied upon to match up with the Hawks' elite talent. Head coach Kirk Muller tweaked their line at yesterday's practice, moving Jiri Tlusty and inserting Tuomo Ruutu. Ruutu, who just returned Sunday from a leg injury suffered in the preseason, is certainly no stranger to the Blackhawks having been drafted by them in 2001 and having suited up with a few players still on the roster. Tlusty was moved to a line with Jordan Staal and Nathan Gerbe, which bumped Patrick Dwyer to the third line and Radek Dvorak to the fourth. It remains to be seen whether the line changes will stick going into tonight's game, more will be known after today's morning skate.
Forward Elias Lindholm, officially listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury, skated with the team Monday in a yellow no-contact jersey.
Cam Ward will be in net tonight, after logging a loss Sunday in relief for Anton Khudobin, who suffered a lower body injury during the second period against the Coyotes. Khudobin was placed on injured reserve yesterday and Justin Peters was recalled from Charlotte to back up Ward in net tonight. There is little news on the extent of Khudobin's injury other than reports that the prognosis was better than expected and the team does not anticipate a lengthy recovery time. While his aforementioned statistics versus the Blackhawks have been outstanding, Ward's performance this season has been up-and-down. His numbers Sunday were bad, 3 goals allowed on 12 shots after taking over for Khudobin mid-way through the game, but his performance Friday against the Kings was solid albeit in a losing effort. He has yet to log a win this season, going 0-2-2 with a 3.32 GAA and .903 save percentage.
Hurricanes depth chart (from CH.com based on yesterday's practice):
Injuries: Forward Elias Lindholm (day-to-day, upper body), defensemen Tim Gleason (IR - concussion) and Joni Pitkanen (LTIR - broken left heel bone), goaltender Anton Khudobin (IR - lower body)
Blackhawks line-up (from Blackhawks.com based on yesterday's practice):
Bryan Bickell - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Michal Handzus - Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad - Andrew Shaw - Joakim Nordstrom
Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger/Brandon Pirri - Ben Smith
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival
Sheldon Brookbank - Michael Kostka
Dating back to his days with the Atlanta Thrashers, Marian Hossa has over a point-per-game record against the Canes, with 54 points in 49 career games. Corey Crawford is expected to start in net for the Blackhawks, he is 1-2-0 with a 2.67 GAA in three career games against the Hurricanes.
There are no injuries to report for the Blackhawks.
Tonight is Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness night in the arena as part of a month-long initiative between the NHL and NHLPA. There will be a number of in-game features (including a fan participation event scheduled for the second period) along with activities in the concourse to support this important cause. Details around tonight's activities can be found on the Hurricanes Community web page.
TV broadcast is back to the standard Fox Sports Carolinas channels tonight. We'll have the game thread ready to roll at 6:30 pm. See you at the rink.