Pittsburgh Penguins at Carolina Hurricanes
February hasn’t been kind to Carolina, as the Hurricanes have gone just 3-5-2 since the first day of the month. They’re currently holding onto the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference with 65 points, just three points ahead of the surging Buffalo Sabres – who also have two games in hand on the Hurricanes.
One of the main reasons behind Carolina’s current playoff position is captain Eric Staal, who has been having a season worthy of the Hart Trophy, which is awarded to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. He leads the Hurricanes in several categories across the board, including goals (27), assists (31), points (58) and shots on goal (228) while being tied for first among NHL forwards with an average of 22:09 minutes per game.
Now it seems Staal will be reunited with forward Cory Stillman, acquired from Florida on Thursday in exchange for Ryan Carter and a fifth-round pick to steady the left wing position. The 37-year-old Stillman, who was an alternate captain on the Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup championship squad in 2006, possesses immense playmaking ability. He was on Staal’s left wing during the captain’s most productive season in 2005-06 while Erik Cole manned the right wing, and there’s a possibility that line may be reunited Friday.
While their forward line has been rounded out with the acquisition of Stillman, their defensive corps has been struggling as of late, especially with Joni Pitkanen missing Tuesday’s tilt with an upper-body injury that has him listed as day-to-day. The Hurricanes allowed the Rangers to tee off 46 shots on Tuesday and have the seventh-worst defense in the league, allowing an average of 3.00 goals-against per game. But goaltender Cam Ward has been playing well, as he has started 16 straight games and leads the league in saves with 1,596.
- Forward Alex Kovalev received quite the birthday present on Feb. 24 when the 38-year-old winger was acquired by the Penguins from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick. This will be Kovalev’s second tour of duty in Pittsburgh, as he spent parts of five seasons with the Penguins between 1998-2003, averaging better than a point per game with 347 points (149G-198A) in 345 games. Kovalev had his best offensive season with the Penguins in 2000-01, establishing career highs across the board with 44 goals, 51 assists and 95 points.
- This season, Kovalev ranked fourth (tied) on the Senators with 27 points (14G-13A) in 54 games. He has been hot of late, notching nine points (6G-3A) over his past 10 games. Kovalev’s 14 goals this season tie him for second-most with Tyler Kennedy among healthy Penguins (James Neal, 21).
- The Penguins begin a five-game road stretch on Friday by visiting Carolina in the final meeting of the 2010-11 campaign between the two teams. Pittsburgh is 3-0 against the Hurricanes so far this season, and the Penguins are looking to sweep Carolina for the first time since 1997-98 (6-0) and fourth time in history.
- In the only other meeting between the two teams this season at RBC Center, Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson stopped 33 saves to pick up his first shutout as a Penguin and the 14th of his career in a 3-0 Pittsburgh victory on Oct. 30. Pascal Dupuis tallied twice in that contest. He leads the Penguins with three goals in three games against the Hurricanes this season.
Keys to the Game
Stifle Their Power Play: The Hurricanes enter Friday’s game having converted on just one of their last 30 power-play opportunities. The Penguins will need to keep their penalty kill unit sharp to keep Carolina’s power play slumping.
Continue to Crash the Net: When the Penguins get to the blue paint, good things happen. That was evident Wednesday withTyler Kennedy‘s two goals off juicy rebounds. They’re doing a good job of throwing the puck to the net quickly and being there for the rebounds and will need to continue that Friday.
|Pens||F Arron Asham, concussion (IR)
F Mike Comrie, hip (IR)
F Sidney Crosby, concussion (IR)
F Dustin Jeffrey, lower body (IR)
F Nick Johnson, concussion (day-to-day)
F Chris Kunitz, lower body (IR)
F Mark Letestu, lower body (IR)
F Evgeni Malkin, torn ACL and torn MCL (will miss remainder of season)
D Paul Martin, upper-body (day-to-day)
D Brooks Orpik, hand (4 weeks)
F Eric Tangradi, concussion (indefinitely)
|Canes||D Joni Pitkanen, lower body (day-to-day)|
|Matt Cooke – Cooke has put together an outstanding stretch of hockey since returning to the lineup on Feb. 20 against Chicago, scoring three points in three games. The penalty kill specialist tallied his team-high third shorthanded goal of the season against the Blackhawks to help the Penguins garner a crucial point in the NHL standings in a 3-2 shootout setback. With that goal, Cooke now leads the entire league with six shorthanded points and in assists (tied) with three. Cooke then went on to earn a pair of assists in a 3-2 overtime loss to San Jose on Wednesday. The gritty forward has been a force all over the ice, as he ranks second on the team with 171 hits.|
|Jussi Jokinen – Jokinen found the back of the net for the first time since Jan. 22 when he put forth a two-goal effort on Tuesday in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers. His pair of goals came within a 10-minute span in the third period and gave the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead that would prove to be crucial in netting Carolina a point in the standings. Jokinen, who has 14 goals and 27 points through 49 games, appears to be returning back to form after missing six games from Feb. 3-18 due to injury.|
|G||Crosby (32)||E.Staal (27)|
|A||Letang (37)||E.Staal (31)|
|P||Crosby (66)||E.Staal (58)|
|PIM||Cooke (108)||Gleason (69)|
|+/-||Crosby (+20)||Sutter (+12)|
|PP||Crosby (10)||E.Staal (9)|
|SH||Cooke (3)||E.Staal (2)|
|W/L||Fleury (27-15-4)||Ward (25-20-8)|
|GAA||Fleury / Johnson (2.27)||Ward (2.78)|
|SVP||Fleury (.921)||Ward (.918)|