Carolina Hurricanes (10-18-5) at Florida Panthers (17-9-6)
5 p.m., Bank Atlantic Center
One of the most important things to do during the season is win games in your division, the Hurricanes have only one victory in the Southeast this year. On top of that, they have only gained three points in games against Southeast teams and that's partially the reason why they are in as low in the standings as they are now. Today is a great day to turn things around, though as they take on the suprise team of the Southeast, the Florida Panthers. How long this success lasts is up for debate but it's looking highly likely that the Cats are on pace to make their first playoff apperance in over a decade. However, they have been on the receiving end of a lot of luck this year and that's played a role in their success.
Things like luck and regression are difficult to accept at first because it doesn't make the best story but the truth is that they both play a big role in hockey and can explain hot and cold streaks going on. Goalies are usually the biggest victim of good or bad luck and we've seen a recent example in Cam Ward who has played well below his abilities this year. We know that a sub-.900 save percentage is unsustainable for him and we've already seen him look like his usual self in the last two games, so there's some regression going on right now. Eric Staal was also a victim of bad luck for the first two months of the season and now he's got 8 points in his last 7 games.
Some of the beneficiaries of great puck luck have been Florida goaltender Jose Theodore (.933 EV sv%) and their entire first line of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann (all three have on-ice shooting percentages of 11%+). That isn't too say that these players are "bad" but they certainly aren't as good as they have been. Regression might be what comes back to hurt this Florida team because the strong goaltending has played a big role in their success and their first line has accounted for 48% of their goals. On top of that, Versteeg is the only player on their first line that appears to be driving possession well so when their shooting percentages regress, so does most of their scoring. For the Hurricanes, bad luck has played a role in their struggles but regression going to the mean isn't going to save them because there's a lot more going wrong with this team...but they are at least a win better than they are now. It doesn't sound like much at first, but it's true.
Let's see how the percentages play against Florida tonight.
Lines, analysis & more after the jump
Tlusty - Staal - Dwyer
Ponikarovsky - Jokinen - Ruutu
Bowman - Sutter - LaRose
Nodl - Brent - Stewart
McBain - Gleason
Faulk - Spacek
Allen - Harrison
Fleischmann - Weiss - Versteeg
Sturm - Santorelli - Kopecky
Bergenheim - Matthias - Samuelsson
Bradley - Rallo - Barch
Campbell - Garrison
Kulikov - Weaver
Jovanovski - Ellerby
What happened last time?
Carolina actually outplayed Florida the last time and saw a great game from their top line but they ended up taking a 3-1 loss, unfortunately. The lines also look really different for both teams so this information isn't the most valid. What I can tell you is that Florida's top line didn't do that much against any of our defense pairings and Allen/Gleason took care of them pretty well. However, that pairing isn't together tonight as it appears McBain/Gleason will stick together and McBain didn't play in the last Florida game. The Panthers defense pairings are the same aside from Erik Gudbranson being scratched in favor of Keaton Ellerby. Staal and Ruutu played great against Florida's top defense pairing and I'm wondering if they'll be put together to take them on again.
There are a few changes in the Panthers lineup and most of it is in their forward corps. Jack Skille is out today and there's a good chance that Greg Rallo will play his first NHL game in his place. Mike Santorelli has been playing on their fourth line lately but he could see a promotion back to the second line because of this. Matt Bradley is also back in the lineup and will be playing on the fourth line and they recently traded for Krystopher Barch who will be on the fourth line as well.
Marcel Goc is still out of the lineup for them which means that their top line is going to be forced to take on tougher assignments than they are used to so I would keep an eye out for that. They have Bergenheim and Matthias who can both take on tougher minutes but Mikael Samuelsson isn't as used to that so it limits Kevin Dineen's options a little bit.
- Jay Harrison is back in the lineup tonight and I'm curious to see how Muller uses him. He was playing over 20 minutes a night before he got hurt but I still say that he's nothing more than a third pairing defenseman but he is a better option than Derek Joslin. Harrison does not need to be protected as much and he can play on both the powerplay and penalty kill.
- I will be keeping a close eye on zone exits and re-watching McBain-Gleason's shifts in between periods to continue the study that I am doing with puck-moving defensemen. My study of zone entries is still a work in progress but I'll update you on that later.
- Look out for how Drayson Bowman is used in this game. Muller said after Thursday's game that he needs to put him into a role that he can excel in, which is hinting that he might get more time with Staal. Bowman's defensive game could use some polishing but he created five scoring chances on his own against Vancouver and with Skinner out, we need someone like that in the lineup.
- You know who is still overdue for a goal? Jussi Jokinen. No goals in about a month for him.
- In addition to "Dave Lewis' Little Nuggets," I suggest a new feature called "Muller's Lineup Machine" because the lines and defense pairings always seem to be a surprise every game. He seems to be sticking with the current set-up, though.
- Hurricanes powerplay has scored at least once in the last four games but it's worth noting that they aren't creating that many scoring chances with the man advantage, which will lead to bad things down the road.
- Jaro Spacek has more goals as a Hurricane than Tomas Kaberle ever had. Spacek has surpassed my expectations but it is only three games so how long this sustains will be a good question. His speed and footwork seems like it will be an issue but for the time being, I like what he's brought to the table.
- My guess for the first goal tonight: Alexei Ponikarovsky. No statistical evidence to back that up.
Enjoy the game.