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Hurricanes vs. Penguins: Game Preview 12-27-13

Three post-holiday games remain as the Carolina Hurricanes wrap up 2013. First up, the Eastern Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins, tonight at PNC Arena.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Hurricanes vs Pittsburgh Penguins
December 27, 2013 - 7:00 pm EST
PNC Arena - Raleigh, NC
TV - Fox Sports Carolinas
Radio - 99.9 The Fan

SB Nation Rival Blog: Pensburgh (twitter @Pensburgh)

Hurricanes Record: 14-15-8 (36 pts.)
Penguins Record: 27-11-1 (55 pts.)

I hope all our loyal Canes Country readers had a wonderful holiday and enjoyed a bit of a hockey hiatus while the NHL was shut down for a few days. For me personally, I used Boxing Day as an opportunity to box up and ship out the frustrations from that third period Monday night.

So today starts a trio of games, a divisional matchup against the Penguins tonight followed by a trip to Toronto Sunday and back to celebrate New Years Eve at home against the Canadiens, to wrap up the year that was 2013.

Tonight marks the third of four on the schedule between the Canes and Pens, and the first two games played out like one would expect between a team that is ranked first in the Eastern Conference and a team that has now fallen to seventh in the Metro division (and 13th in the Conference). In Pittsburgh on October 8, the Canes lost 5-2 thanks in large part to a hat trick performance from former Hurricane Jussi Jokinen. That was followed by a 3-1 loss at home in Raleigh on October 28, with forward Jayson Megna scoring his first NHL goal.

With three days off for the NHL holiday break, both teams will lace up for the first time since Monday at their respective morning skates (which by the way both practices this morning are closed to the public for an exclusive season ticket holder event). The Penguins will arrive in Raleigh this morning. No doubt updates will be forthcoming throughout the day, but in the meantime, here's what we know.

  • The Penguins lead the Eastern Conference, and are tied with Anaheim for the most wins with 27. They are one of five teams that is averaging over a three points per game pace. They have accomplished this feat while having no less than five players out of their lineup for each game over the past five weeks.
  • Sidney Crosby leads the league with 54 points, and Marc-Andre Fleury leads the league with 21 goalie wins and three shutouts.
  • Pittsburgh snapped a seven-game winning streak on Monday with a 5-0 loss to the Senators in Ottawa. In that game the Penguins went 0-for-7 on the power play, which dropped them out of the number one ranking in the NHL (they fell to second behind the Capitals, not necessary to mention how the Caps climbed to the top spot).
  • Brooks Orpik has missed eight games due to a concussion suffered in the well-publicized altercation with the Bruins' Shawn Thornton on December 7th, but Orpik has been skating with the team and according to Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune, he'll be back in the lineup tonight.
  • Also per Yohe, Tanner Glass is returning to the lineup tonight after missing games with a broken hand. Glass has two goals this season, both against the Canes.
  • The Penguins continue to win despite being decimated by injuries. Even with the return of Glass and Orpik, the list of active injuries for the Penguins is a long one and includes Evgeni Malkin (lower body), Rob Scuderi (broken ankle), Jayson Megna (lower body), Andrew Ebbett (broken ankle), Beau Bennett (hand/wrist surgery), Kris Letang (IR, upper body), Paul Martin (IR, fractured tibia), and Tomas Vokoun (IR, blood clot). Additionally, Pascal Dupuis left Monday's game with a lower body concern and from reports this morning, he will indeed be out of the lineup as well.
  • Deryk Engelland is eligible to return to the lineup tonight after serving a five-game suspension for a hit to the head of Detroit's Justin Abdelkader on December 14.
  • In the category of slumps busted or breakout performances in tonight's game, a few suspects would be the aforementioned Tanner Glass, Jussi Jokinen, who has one goal in his last 22 games, and former Canes prospect Brian Dumoulin, part of the Jordan Staal trade, who has six NHL games under his belt without registering a goal.

Lineups based on Monday's game (from Penguins website):

Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis (likely out)

Chris Conner - Jussi Jokinen - James Neal

Harry Zolnierczyk - Brandon Sutter - Joe Vitale

Craig Adams - Zach Sill - Chuck Kobasew

(Tanner Glass, Brian Gibbons)

Matt Niskanen - Olli Maatta

Brian Dumoulin - Robert Bortuzzo

Philip Samuelsson - Simon Despres

(Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi, Deryk Engelland)

Marc-Andre Fleury
Jeff Zatkoff

The Canes were less than five minutes away from a merry Christmas when they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and allowed the Columbus Blue Jackets to take two points home for the holidays. Despite the stinging loss, the smallest glimmer of hope arose in that the Canes scored two power play goals in one game for the first time this season.

Jeff Skinner remains red hot with twelve points in his last ten games, including the two power play goals Monday night. Skinner leads the Canes in goals (14) and power play goals (5), and ranks second in points (23) behind Eric Staal despite missing eleven games due to injury.

With the roster freeze in effect until after midnight tonight, the expectation would be minimal changes outside of the normal consternation over who is in net. Until this happened around 10:30 last night:

@ZachBoychuk: Come on come on come on let's go... Do do da do do.. Let's Go Canes! Excited to be back in Raleigh @NHLCanes

No insight on that one, I guess we will see as the day plays out, but if Boychuk is indeed to join the lineup, it would have to be on an emergency basis which means there are undisclosed illnesses or injuries coming to light today.  As of this writing there has been no official news update from the team.

UPDATE: 10:30 am: The Hurricanes have announced that Jiri Tlusty underwent an emergency appendectomy on Tuesday and will be out of the lineup for 2-3 weeks, hence the Boychuk recall (news release).

Speaking of who's in net, Justin Peters opened the door ever so slightly for a change in net after giving up four goals Monday night, although the effort was more solid than the goals against would indicate. Since November 5th, Pete Dawg has a 1.89 GAA and .938 save percentage which is good enough for NHL top ten in both categories. He is 2-4-1 in 7 career games against the Penguins and was in net for the 3-1 loss on October 28. Cam Ward is 12-6-3 career against the Penguins with a 2.39 GAA and was in net for five goals against in the loss on October 8th.

Lineups based on Monday's game (depth chart):

Jeff Skinner - Eric Staal - Tuomo Ruutu
Nathan Gerbe - Jordan Staal - Alexander Semin
Jiri Tlusty - Riley Nash - Patrick Dwyer
Drayson Bowman - Manny Malhotra - Radek Dvorak
Kevin Westgarth (healthy scratch)

Andrej Sekera - Justin Faulk
Ron Hainsey - Brett Bellemore
Ryan Murphy - Tim Gleason
Jay Harrison (out Monday, day to day) - Mike Komisarek (healthy scratch)

Justin Peters
Cam Ward

Don't forget to set your DVRs tonight as Tripp Tracy features another rare interview with Alex Semin during the Hurricanes Live pregame show.

We'll have the open game thread ready to roll by 6:30 pm. See you at the rink.