Carolina Hurricanes (12-19-6) at Pittsburgh Penguins (20-11-4)
Consol Energy Center, 7 p.m.
TV: FS-Carolinas, ROOT Sports
If you're wondering why there was no scoring chance report for yesterday's game against the Devils and are an NHL Game Center subscriber, try to watch the replay of that game and tell me what happens. That should answer your question. I'll get the data from that game up as soon as I can, which probably won't be tonight because the Hurricanes are back in action against another future division foe, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both games against Pittsburgh this year have been very good and tonight's should be interesting with the Hurricanes top forward prospect Zac Dalpe being called up.
Where he is going to play is a good question because he was called up as a replacement for the injured Patrick Dwyer, who is a third liner but has played around 16-18 minutes on some nights so it's very possible to insert Dalpe onto the third line with Sutter and Tlusty. It's a huge upgrade compared to how little he was playing earlier in the season on the fourth line. Then again, it's possible that he might be placed on the fourth line while someone like Andreas Nodl is placed on the third line to take over Dwyer's spot because he has experience playing in Philadelphia's top 9. Then you remember what Kirk Muller said a couple weeks ago regarding Drayson Bowman being used on Staal's line.
“I think you’ve got to put them into a spot where they can excel,” Muller said of young players, like Bowman. “If you keep throwing them on the fourth line when they come up, they’re just going to be a guy out of their element.”
Dalpe is similar to Bowman in the sense that he is an offensively gifted player and could benefit a lot from playing on the first line during his call-up. The other wing spot on Staal's line is being occupied by Chad LaRose and he can easily play a third line role without any trouble so the idea of putting Dalpe on the top line isn't too far out of the question. He didn't have much success in his first stint this year (was on ice for five scoring chances in nine games) but he was playing injured and was stuck with Paul Maurice's fourth line minutes, which is a hard position for him to succeed. Could this be his chance to finally stick around on the big club? We'll find out soon.
Lines, scoring chances & more after the jump
Bowman - Staal - Dalpe
Ponikarovsky - Jokinen - Ruutu
Tlusty - Sutter - LaRose
Stewart - Brent - Nodl
Gleason - McBain
Faulk - Harrison
Allen - Spacek
Kunitz - Malkin - Neal
Dupuis - Staal - Kennedy
Sullivan - Vitale - Cooke
Adams - Williams - Asham
Orpik - Niskanen
Despres - Michalek
Picard - Lovejoy
What happened last time?
Here's a new toy we can use for this feature: Fenwick time lines courtesy of Behind The Net hockey. This tallies the Fenwick events for each team during a game and shows who had the territorial advantage for a certain amount of time. Here's what happened when we played the Pens earlier in the month.
Remember how good the Canes looked in that first period? This illustrates that well but it also shows how much they fell off after that and it looks like Craig Adams' goal was the catalyst for that. This is where the "play for an entire 60 minutes" narrative comes into use and even though I feel that pharse is completely overused, the Canes probably would have won that game if they kept up what they did in the first period for the entire game.
There are also some roster changes to keep in mind here. For one, Carolina isn't going to be playing with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen again (or at least I hope not) and the Pens have some injuries, as well. Carolina might be going through some health problems with Skinner, Pitkanen and now Dwyer out but the Pens probably have no sympathy because their best player is out indefinitely with a concussion along with their two best defensemen. They are dressing three replacement level players on their blue-line right now in Simon Despres, Alex Picard and Ben Lovejoy and their two bottom-six centers are composed of AHL call-ups due to injuries. It's just a mess right now and you would think this team would be a lot worse than they are in the standings but they are doing just what they did last season and are shining with a 20-11-4 record. Speaks volumes about the coaching on this team and some of the talent they have up front.
- I just picked up a copy of Hockey Prospectus' annual and the writers flogged Justin Peters big time for his performance last year and rightfully so as he had an awful .875 save percentage, which is why he was in the AHL for most of this year. An injury to Brian Boucher forced the Canes to recall him and this is his first appearance of the year. An interesting fact concerning tonight's game is that he did start against Pittsburgh last season and had a respectable 32 save performance in a shootout loss.
- Orpik/Niskanen is likely the de facto shutdown pair for the Penguins which means that they'll be put up against the Canes' second line which is now the home of their leading goal-scorer Tuomo Ruutu. I predicted that Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu would have big months and while that hasn't happened yet for the former, it is for Ruutu. He has six goals in December and has taken over Jeff Skinner for the team lead in goals with 13. He has been shooting the puck more lately, but he's still getting the benefit from a good shooting percentage as he's shooting at 15.4% for the season, about 3.0% higher than his career average. I did predict the under for his 25 goal pace a couple weeks ago so I'm expecting him to cool down but I'm fine with him having this success for the time being.
- Staal, Bowman and whoever else plays on the top line have a favorable matchup tonight because while Orpik and Niskanen handle the second line, that means one of Pittsburgh's other defense pairings gets an easier matchup which will likely be against Simon Despres and Zbynek Michalek. Michalek is a great defensive d-man but Despres is only a rookie and has been playing sheltered minutes so far this season. I know that he projects to be a tough-minute defenseman but he is still unproven for the time being.
- Regression seems to have hit Jussi Jokinen hard the last few weeks. He's been one of the team's better territorial players but hasn't scored in over a month and has six points in his last 11 games. This was after he was shooting the lights out at even strength earlier in the season, though.
- Just taking a look at how the defense's zone start rates have changed over the past few weeks. Bryan Allen's being used in an easier role (though his ZStart% is still 41.1) and so is Justin Faulk who recently saw his zone start percentage creep up to 52.1%. Meanwhile Jamie McBain is sitting at 43.1% now thanks to all that time playing with Tim Gleason.
- My prediction for "First goal of the game" is Chad LaRose. No statistical evidence to back that up.