Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena
The two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins have officially put the hammer down and established themselves as a contender, yet again, for the Stanley Cup. With points in their past seven games (6-0-1), the Pens have vaulted into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, and come to the trade deadline again seeking complementary pieces for a playoff run.
The Carolina Hurricanes enter their final matchup with the Penguins coming off a poor week in which they battled in three big divisional and wild-card position contests with the Devils (twice) and the Islanders, and were only able to attain one point. A swift return to good hockey is needed in order to hang in the tight playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
The usual suspects of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel continue to lead the way offensively for the Penguins, but the growing offensive game of players such as Jake Guentzel, Riley Sheahan, and Conor Sheary have provided some of the depth in scoring that the Pens sorely lacked early in the season. The ability of the Pens to find ways to plug holes deeper in their lineup left by salary cap casualties continues to be a huge factor in their overall success.
In net, Matt Murray has been simply average in an injury plagued season, but the development of Tristan Jarry, who has provided 17 starts with a .921 save percentage, has given the Pens a boost they needed in Murray’s absence at crucial times.
Interestingly, while the Hurricanes have an unusual four days off, the Penguins also have been given a rest and will not take the ice again until taking on the Canes this coming Friday. No matter the level of rest, however, the Hurricanes will certainly have to bring a sharper, more active game into the weekend in order to avoid falling our of the playoff picture.
What to Watch For
- Will there be any changes made by the Canes with the down time provided this week? If anything is going to happen, now would be the time you could expect it.
- Who will be in net? With a back-to-back stacking the week’s schedule, both goalies are likely to be called upon again.
Detroit Red Wings
Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at Little Caesars Arena
Although the last matchup between these two teams was an underwhelming performance on home ice from the Hurricanes in a 4-1 loss, the Canes’ first trip to Detroit was much more fruitful as the Canes corralled a 3-1 win. While the Red Wings are on the outskirts of playoff contention, currently seven points behind the Islanders and Canes for the last spot, they are very likely to be sellers before the trade deadline, which could mean the roster the Wings ice on Saturday could look very different than what is currently in place. Pending UFA Mike Green is the main piece seen as likely to move, and other players such as Andreas Athanasiou, Tomas Tatar and others have been in various rumors as the deadline approaches.
Opponents such as the Red Wings are teams that the Hurricanes must find a way to handle, but the previous matchup is clear evidence that bringing your best game is still needed, even if the Wings are not a playoff contender themselves. Dylan Larkin and the savvy captain Henrik Zetterberg lead the offensive attack for the Wings, but the overall scoring has continued to lag, as the Wings are currently 28th in goals scored. With some of the contributors on the market, the end of the season scoring could dry up even further if some of the potential moves are made, as the Red Wings work their way through the first rebuild in Detroit in over a generation.
No matter the roster changes or the lineups, games such as this are practically must-wins as we head down the stretch in a tight wildcard race. Unfortunately, due to their inconsistency, it is tough to say what we should expect to see from the Canes on a nightly basis.
What to Watch For
- The Canes are on the back-end of their back-to-back, but the Wings will just be beginning theirs. Will the break before this weekend allow the Canes to have better legs for both ends of the back-to-back?
- The penalty kill for the Wings has struggled at only 77.96% (25th) on the kill. The Canes’ power play has trended upward steadily for the last few months, so watching that matchup could be a telling factor in the outcome of this game.