New York Rangers (13-5-3) at Carolina Hurricanes (8-14-4)
RBC Center 7 p.m.
TV: FS-Carolina, MSG
If there's one thing that annoys me more than having to watch my team play poorly, it's the media coming up with bogus narratives to explain why "x team/player is struggling." Before Maurice was fired, the narrative circulating around the Hurricanes was that Eric Staal's horrible start to the year was because he feels bad about concussing his brother, Marc, last season when the Canes played the Rangers. I felt that incident was way overblown by Rangers fans and has nothing to do with Staal's horrible point total this season.
Staal's start to the year was brutal in every category but lately, he has picked it up even if his point total does not indicate that. He is the Hurricanes best forward in terms of possession and has recently broke .500 in terms of scoring chances so I believe that he will turn the corner and have a scoring outburst very soon. What's holding him back now is a horrible on-ice shooting percentage of 6.28% and his low +/- is due to Ward/Boucher stopping only 87.4% of the opposing team's shots when he's on the ice. I truly believe that Staal will be fine from here on out so let's put this silly narrative to rest and focus on hockey starting with tonight's rematch against the Rangers.
Lines, analysis & more after the jump
Ruutu - Staal - Skinner
Ponikarovsky - Jokinen - LaRose
Tlusty - Sutter - Dwyer
Stewart - Brent - Nodl
Allen - Gleason
Pitkanen - Faulk
Kaberle - Joslin
Anisimov - Stepan - Gaborik
Fedotenko - Richards - Callahan
Avery - Dubinsky - Prust
Mitchell - Boyle - Hagelin
McDonagh - Girardi
Del Zotto - Sauer
Woywitka - Eminger
What happened last time?
I think we're better off not remembering our last meeting against the Rangers but for reference sake, here's what happened.
Yep, it was an awful game for just about everyone and that's what happens when you're outchanced 20-11. Although, most of the damage was done in the third period but the fact that the Canes gave up four goals in a 20 minute frame shouldn't be overlooked. It was a disgusting performance and hopefully history doesn't repeat itself tonight.
As far as roster changes go, it's been the Canes who have shook things up a bit since this game. Ruutu-Staal-Skinner will be the top line and are going to have to deal with the Rags top defense pairing of Dan Girardi & Ryan McDonagh who were both very good against Staal's line. There's also the addition of Andreas Nodl on the fourth line which will hopefully have more of an impact tonight. The second line is noticeably weaker but those three (Poni, Jokinen & LaRose) are driving possession well so it's possibly they can get to the Del Zotto-Sauer pairing a bit.
The Rangers have made a couple changes in their lineup with Ruslan Fedotenko moving up to the second line and Sean Avery moving up to the third line. The fourth line is completely different with Erik Christensen sitting this one out and John Mitchell taking over in his place. Andre Deveaux has been waived and Carl Halegin is in his spot now. Brian Boyle has also moved down to the fourth line which gives them a lot of depth there. His 20 goal season was an aberration but he can still handle his own against tough competition so he's a good option there. The Canes have a lot more depth to deal with here but I expect Allen, Gleason, Sutter & Dwyer to be constantly matched up against that first line of the Rangers since those three have been their best forwards by a longshot this year.
- I still have a hard time believing the Rangers are as good as their record because of how badly they have outshot all season. Their corsi & fenwick have been improving since November and the wins they added on during this time will help them towards the end of the year, but I feel that they are going to cool off at some point. Lundqvist's goaltending and some high shooting percentages (seven of their regular forwards have a shooting percentage above 10%) have been a key factor in their success and most of it seems unsustainable. I like the make-up of this team and think that Tortorella runs a good system but teams that get outshot this badly every night just don't do well in the long run.
- Having Nodl on the fourth line isn't going to do much unless Kirk Muller uses them in a different way than Maurice did. Nodl seems like a capable defensive player who we can deploy against tough competition, but Tlusty has been holding his own on the third line this season and hasn't done anything to lost that role yet. Nodl appears to be an upgrade defensively and Tlusty is getting killed through shot metrics, so I would expect them to switch places soon.
- Martin Biron in net tonight which could give us a slight advantage since he's obviously not as good as Lundqvist, but he's been great this year in the handful of games that he played.
- It amazes me that John Mitchell still has a job.
- I don't like to throw out bold claims because regression can set in at any time but I feel that December is going to be a good month for Carolina. Going into November, they were playing awful but getting slightly lucky and then the house of cards eventually crashed down. Since then, their underlying numbers have gotten better and if they keep it up things should turn around. It's not going to be a complete 180, though.
- Jamie McBain was arguably the team's most improved defenseman going from October to November and yet, he's sitting for the second straight night. In favor of two defensemen who are playing worse than him. I'm going to let you decide who those two are.
- Jay Harrison is practicing again but will be sitting this one out as the Canes defensive logjam is back in full force.
Enjoy the game.