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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Red Wings, Penguins and Bruins

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The Canes host three Eastern Conference foes as they skate into the Christmas break.

NHL: Boston Bruins at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Red Wings

Thursday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at New York Islanders Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The Hurricanes will welcome the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night for their only trip to Raleigh of the season. After going 1-0-1 in two meetings in Motown, the Canes will look to capture the season series from the Wings for the first time in three seasons. Detroit will play on Tuesday against the Flyers, but enter that contest having lost their last three, and sit just a game below NHL .500 in what was pegged as a textbook rebuilding year.

Injuries have begun to dig into the thin Wings roster, as the last month has seen the loss of four lineup stalwarts in Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Darren Helm, and Anthony Mantha, all for substantial periods. As such, the offensive and defensive depth has been tested, resulting in struggles across the roster. Offensively, the Wings have been perhaps slightly better than expected, as Dylan Larkin (32 points in 34 games) and Gustav Nyquist (30 points in 34 games) have carried the load offensively for a team that was thought to lack scoring punch. Ranked 19th overall in goals scored, it is certainly not a performance that is overwhelming, but Red Wing fans can take solace in the fact that Larkin appears to be fully blossoming into the centerpiece that the next good Wings team will be built around.

Defensively, the story has been much different. Losing veterans such as Green and DeKeyser on the blueline has forced the Wings to use more young and unproven players in front of Jimmy Howard, who has been surprisingly effective, despite opponents sending the fourth most shots to the net towards the Wings netminders. Howard has posted a solid .922 save percentage in 22 starts (23 games), while compiling a 10-7-4 record overall.

To illustrate the revolving door that has been in place in front of Howard and his backup, Jonathan Bernier, the Wings have iced a total of 10 different defensemen for a minimum of six games each. With that lack of cohesion, and loss of talent, it is easy to see how the Wings have struggled in their own end at times.

For Carolina to be able to continue the forward momentum following their shutout of the Coyotes, they must play with the same kind of energy they provided on Sunday. Andrei Svechnikov appears to just now have begun to click on the offensive end, and sending the young Russian out as often as possible in the offensive end seems like the Canes best bet for consistent offensive production at this point. If the Canes can take care of the Nyquist-Larkin-Abdelkader line on the other end, they should be in a great position to tally two points on Thursday.

What to Watch For

  • Svechnikov has a point in each of his last three contests, tied for the longest streak of his career. Let’s see if that can be extended Thursday night.
  • Petr Mrazek will likely again face his former team, after defeating the Wings in Detroit on October 22nd. Can he start a streak against his former mates?

Pittsburgh Penguins

Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night will be the first of four meetings with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as the Pens visit PNC Arena. The Pens enter a busy week having fallen to the Ducks on Monday, but still having earned points in six of their past eight contests. After a slow start, the perennial contenders have fought their way back into a playoff spot, as they currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division.

The engine that drives the Penguins continues to be the three-headed monster of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Each player enters Tuesday with exactly 36 points on the season, a better than a point-per-game average. With Kris Letang still anchoring the defensive core, and Jake Guentzel providing Crosby with the talented line-mate that allows the Pens to then pair Malkin and Kessel, the Pens still ice a top-10 scoring roster that has grown more reliant on their top-six forwards, but remain a very dangerous opponent.

The biggest concern to date for the Penguins has been the status of Matt Murray in net. While injuries have kept him out at times, ineffectiveness has also played a role in him having only 12 starts to this point in the season. While Casey DeSmith has filled in admirably (.923 save percentage, 2.49 goals against in 23 games), Murray remains the most likely option as the number one goalie going forward. Murray’s .883 save percentage and astronomical 3.95 goals against have raised serious concerns as they follow a very ordinary 2017-18 campaign. If the Penguins are to be a Cup contender though, the smart money would be on Murray finding his game and elevating the Penguins due to his efforts. Time will tell if he is capable of such a performance.

What to Watch For

  • Carolina will be in the first game of a back-to-back, so it will be interesting to see if Curtis McElhinney is capable of returning, or if Rod Brind’Amour will have to find a place to insert Scott Darling during a tough weekend against playoff caliber opponents.
  • Speaking of busy teams, the Pens will be playing their final game before the Christmas break on Saturday, and their fourth in six nights this week. Can the Canes take advantage of what should be an advantage in fresh legs on Saturday?

Boston Bruins

Sunday, 5:00 p.m. at PNC Arena (not the Hartford Civic Center)

NHL: Boston Bruins at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Whalers Night at PNC Arena. It’s happening, and it’s happening against the former New England rivals, the Boston Bruins. While Sunday will represent the first time since the 1996-97 season that the Whalers classic sweater has been present on NHL ice, it also represents the second meeting of the season between the Bruins and the Hurricanes in Raleigh. Boston escaped PNC Arena in October with a 3-2 win in October on the back of two goals from Brad Marchand.

The Bruins currently sit outside of the top-three in the Atlantic Division, but comfortably placed in the top wildcard spot with 40 points. The backbone of the solid, if unspectacular, initial third of the season has been the surprising emergence of Jaroslav Halak in net. Brought in to back up Tuukka Rask, Halak has stolen the show and turned the net-minding duties into more of a timeshare than anyone would have envisioned. Posting a .929 save percentage in 19 games played, Halak has been among the biggest surprises in the NHL this season. While Rask has been scrutinized heavily at times in Boston, his .915 save percentage and 2.57 goals against have provided solid enough play that the B’s can feel confident each and every night that they have a solid contributor in net behind them.

Offensively, the Bruins have seen their sixth-ranked scoring attack from 2017-18 evaporate into just the 21st overall scoring team this year. Even with David Pastrnak continuing his ascendance to star-level status, and Marchand’s continued high level of production, the depth in scoring has failed to materialize. The main culprits have continued to be David Backes, who is just in year three of a large five-year contract has provided paltry returns in 29 games played this season, tallying only eight points. Young 40-plus point scorers from a season ago in Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen have taken steps back in terms of production early this season as well, which has led to a number of frustrating nights in which the goal-scoring has let down solid defensive and goal-tending efforts.

Currently, the injury bug has gotten to the B’s, as DeBrusk is now out dealing with concussion symptoms, Kevan Miller is dealing with a throat injury, and captain Zdeno Chara is expected to be out until at least January dealing with a knee injury. Patrice Bergeron has been out for a full month, but may be ready to resurface this week after dealing with a shoulder issue.

Expect the Bruins to remain contenders, but if their goal-scoring does not see significant upticks soon, they will most certainly be a player at the trade deadline in search of offensive depth that can keep them competitive into the Spring.

What to Watch For

  • Those green jerseys. It will be an interesting night in Raleigh, as the Canes pay homage to their predecessors, the Hartford Whalers.
  • Who gets the net for each side? Both teams will be on a back-to-back, so neither team should have a significant advantage in terms of energy.