Western Canada is cold, vast, home to many hockey-crazed locals, and appears to suit the Carolina Hurricanes (20-11-2, 42 pts) just fine. Since starting their road trip a week ago, the Canes have secured five of a possible six points, and have now earned points in five straight games.
What’s been the catalyst for success in the west? Well, both defense and special teams have been on a roll.
The Canes’ team defense now ranks 4th in the league, with 2.61 goals against per game. Carolina’s seven-man blueline rotation gets most of the credit; so does a hot-streak for James Reimer. You have to go back 12 games - a 5-3 loss at home to the Flyers on November 21st - to find an instance of the Canes conceding four or more goals. In the 11 games since then, Carolina has gone 7-3-1.
As for special teams, the penalty kill has gotten most of the spotlight, and rightfully so. It’s 2nd in the league (86.55%) and leads the league in shorthanded goals (7). Yet, the power play deserves some love too -- it’s a very respectable 5th in the league (22.86%).
That power play is set to get a boost at some point soon from Erik Haula. The Canes’ fourth-leading goal-scorer (trailing only Aho, Svechnikov, and Hamilton), Haula joined the team in Alberta but is unlikely to play tonight, with newly-recalled Brian Gibbons drawing into the lineup.
The choice in goal is getting more complicated with each shutout Reimer posts. Tonight Petr Mrazek (13-6-2) should get a start, both to keep him active and to set Reimer up for the road trip finale against the Avalanche.
The Canes’ expected lines:
Nino Niederreiter - Sebastian Aho - Teuvo Teravainen
Andrei Svechnikov - Jordan Staal - Warren Foegele
Ryan Dzingel - Lucas Wallmark - Martin Necas
Brock McGinn - Jordan Martinook - Brian Gibbons
Jaccob Slavin - Dougie Hamilton
Joel Edmundson - Brett Pesce
Jake Gardiner - Trevor van Riemsdyk
Injuries and Scratches: Haydn Fleury (healthy)
The Winnipeg Jets (20-11-2, 42 pts) mirror the Canes in a few ways. They have an identical record overall (20-11-2) and are also 7-3-1 in their last 11 games.
The Canes will look to win the special teams matchup. Winnipeg is vulnerable on the penalty kill (75.31%) and not stellar on the power play (17.65%). Both rates are below the league average.
In terms of offense, Winnipeg is led by a trio of 30-point scorers. Mark Scheifele (15g, 20a), Patrik Laine (10g, 21a), and Kyle Connor (14g, 17a) all play close to 20 minutes/game and are all responsible in their own zone.
On defense, Winnipeg is good but not great; they rank 7th overall in the league. Neal Pionk, a 24-year-old Minnesotan acquired in the Jacob Trouba deal with the Rangers, leads the team with a plus-9 rating.
In net, they’re led by Connor Hellebuyck (16-8-2, .930 SV%, 2.34 GAA). Hellebuyck is near the top of all the important goalie statistics. He leads the league in goalie starts, goalie point shares, and is tied for most wins. Both his save percentage and GAA are in the top-10.
The Jets’ expected lines:
Kyle Connor - Mark Scheifele - Patrik Laine
Nikolaj Ehlers - Blake Wheeler - Jack Roslovic
Andrew Copp - Adam Lowry - Nick Shore
Gabriel Bourque - Joona Luoto - Logan Shaw
Josh Morrissey - Tucker Poolman
Luca Sbisa - Neal Pionk
Anthony Bitetto - Nathan Beaulieu
Injuries and Scratches: Bryan Little (upper-body), Dustin Byfuglien (ankle), Dmitry Kulikov (upper-body), Mark Letestu (virus), Mathieu Perreault (upper-body)