Boston Bruins at Carolina Hurricanes
PNC Arena, 7 p.m.
TV: FS-Carolinas, NESN, NHL Network
Spirits in Raleigh are much higher than they were a week ago, as the Hurricanes come into tonight winning their last two games and look to continue their streak tonight when they take on the Boston Bruins. The Hurricanes managed to sweep the season series with Boston last season and that might surprise a lot of people considering where both teams finished in the standings. They also outscored the Bruins 14-5 in their four meetings last season and right away that should tell you that goaltender Cam Ward, who had a save percentage of .965 against Boston last year, played a big role in the Hurricanes winning those games.
The Canes probably aren't going to be as fortunate against the Bruins this time around because it doesn't look like Ward has any 40+ save performances up his sleeve judging by his performance so far this year. Carolina will also be playing without their best defenseman in Justin Faulk, who sustained an injury in the game against Buffalo on Friday night. This creates a major hole to fill in the lineup because Faulk was playing 20+ minutes a night and playing a big role on the shutdown pair with Tim Gleason. Faulk was also playing at an exceptional level, so filling in his shoes isn't going to be easy.
The good news is that Faulk's injury doesn't appear to be too serious and he has been practicing with the team but getting through the next couple of games without him will be tough. Finding someone to replace him alongside Gleason will be even more difficult because the available options are Jamie McBain and Joe Corvo if Muller wants to use a right-handed shot on that pairing. Neither are ideal options but there is a chance that they can be serviceable if used in a short-term setting. Missing one defenseman shouldn't sink a team, but Faulk has been playing at a pretty high level this year, so his absence might be more damaging than some think.
Opponent scouting report and line combinations are after the jump.
Know Your Opponent: Boston Bruins
The Bruins have gained a point in all four games they have played in this year and have scored three goals per game. They've been getting contributions from just about everyone in the lineup as nine different players have scored for them so far and their top players are doing a great job of controlling the shot battle, as well. The B's have also seen some great play from their young defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who already has three points and will probably be staying with the team for the entire year. To sum things up, the B's are still overpowering teams at even-strength just as they have for the last few years.
The one area where they are struggling is the powerplay, which has converted only once on 17 opportunities this season. Fortunately for them, they are going up against a very porous Hurricanes PK that has allowed a goal in all but one game this season. Something has to give there, I assume.
Tlusty - E. Staal - Semin
Skinner - J. Staal - Dalpe
Bowman - Jokinen - LaRose
Dwyer - Brent - Westgarth
Pitkanen - McBain
Gleason - Corvo
Harrison - Sanguinetti
Out: Faulk, Boychuk
Lucic - Krejci - Horton
Marchand - Bergeron - Seguin
Bourque - Kelly - Peverley
Paille - Campbell - Thornton
Chara - Boychuk
Hamilton - Seidenberg
Johnson - Ference
Out: McQuaid, McDermid
10 Things to Focus On
Again, the special teams battle is going to be a key point tonight. The Bruins powerplay hasn't been good thus far but they have the talent up front to be dangerous, so the Hurricanes will need to do their best to stay out of penalty trouble. Sometimes that's not as easy as it sounds since the refs are calling basically everything this year, but being unable to kill penalties has put them in a hole multiple times this year. The Hurricanes will also need to capitalize on the powerplays they do get but I have a feeling that their powerplay will heat up eventually. They've been creating too many chances to go unrewarded.
On a similar note, the Hurricanes are shooting at 5.8% as a team at even strength this year. Considering that they are winning the chance battle by a wide margin and are producing over 40 shots per game, it's only a matter of time until the pucks start going in for them. Alexander Semin in particular is due for an even strength goal. So is Jiri Tlusty.
I would be lying if I said that the thought of the David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron line against Gleason and one of McBain or Corvo didn't scare me. A way to put less pressure on them to shut this line down is for the forwards to chip in and make sure that the puck is in Carolina's zone less often. Luckily for the Hurricanes, they have one of the better two-way forwards in the league in Jordan Staal and he will likely spend most of the night matched up against the Krejci line. It should be an interesting matchup to watch.
Another matchup to look out for is Eric Staal's line against the Bergeron unit if it happens. Next to David Backes, Bergeron is the best two-way forward in the league and is capable of shutting down just about any opposing first line in the NHL. If they can't get it going, then this will put pressure on either Jordan's line or the Jokinen line to create some offense. The former has had no problem with that but the latter has struggled big time.
It's looking like Cam Ward will get the start tonight and he's coming off a pretty good performance against Buffalo on Thursday night but his performance in three starts this year has been largely underwhelming. Let's hope that this is just a bad start and not a sign of things to come.
Joni Pitkanen logged over 29 minutes of ice-time Friday night and is capable of handling first pairing minutes, so I have him and McBain listed as the top-pair for now. They will still probably get the easier minutes in terms of who they get matched up against during the game, though. I think Pitkanen can still handle tough minutes but his role this year has primarily been to provide offense. I guess that could change with Faulk out of the lineup but we shall see.
It's looking like Kevin Westgarth will play again since these are the Bruins and have the "tough" reputation. I kind of doubt that Westgarth will actually get into a fight, though because he has played over three minutes in maybe one game this year. In case you were wondering, yes Zach Boychuk is still on the roster.
Johnson/Ference are pretty easy to expose as a defense pairing, so maybe the Jokinen line will be able to generate some more chances than they have the last few games. My confidence in them is lower than usual, though. Plus, they will probably be going up against Chris Kelly, who is a very good defensive center.
This is the first game of a back-to-back for Boston, so they are going to be starting Anton Khudobin in net and give Tuukka Rask the nod tomorrow. This will be Khudobin's first start of the year and his first game played since April of last year. He has done very well for himself in the minors the last few years, so it's good to see him finally get a shot. The fact that he is inexperienced might help the Hurricanes gain an advantage in this game, but Buffalo probably said similar things about Dan Ellis before getting shut down by him on Friday night.
The Bruins are the best faceoff team in the league (60.8% successful on the year), which is the complete opposite of what they saw against Buffalo the last two games. The Canes have also been a very good face-off team this year (3rd in the league) but that percentage was likely boosted from the two games against the Sabres. We'll see how things go tonight.
This will be the toughest test of the season for the Hurricanes and I'm sure that I'm not the only one who is anxious to see how they live up to the challenge.