Penguins (29-10-0, 58 pts) @ Hurricanes (16-20-2, 34 pts)
The Carolina Hurricanes beat the Pittsburgh 4-1 on February 28th and at the time had the look of being the favorites in the Southeast Division and a possible scary team in the playoffs with one of hockey’s best first lines, a Cup winning goaltender in Cam Ward, and a big imposing 1-2 center punch down the middle in the Staal brothers.
Three days later Cam Ward went down with an high ankle sprain on March 3rd and the Hurricanes have imploded since.
The Hurricanes are 1-11-1 over their last 13 games, giving up 51 goals and scoring just 20 goals during that span. The schedule makers did them no favors this week playing in Boston last night, a 6-2 loss, and returning home to face the Eastern Conference leading Penguins tonight.
Former Penguin Jordan Staal has 9 goals and 23 points in 38 games this season. Staal is tied for a team-worst minus-15 rating. Staal has only been a minus player once in his career, a minus-5 rating in 2007-2008.
From 2009-2010 through 2011-2012, Staal was a plus-42 over four seasons.
*Kris Letang won’t play tonight and Simon Despres is also expected to be scratched on the backend. Despres and Letang worked as the extra pairing in the morning skate. According to a source on the scene, Robert Bortuzzo is currently scheduled to play so barring a lineup change prior to game time, Despres will be sitting. Bortuzzo was torched by the Hurricanes in the previous meeting. I like Bortuzzo but the handling of Despres remains odd all season. If one thing, Despres should be seeing a bigger role as the season is progressing, especially with the opportunity there due to Letang being out.
*Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said after the skate that Marc Andre Fleury will get the start in goal. Fleury is coming off an excellent game against the Rangers Friday night. Fleury is tied for second in the NHL with 19 wins.
TONIGHT’S PROJECTED LINEUP
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – Jarome Iginla
Brenden Morrow – Jussi Jokinen- Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke – Brandon Sutter – Tyler Kennedy
Tanner Glass – Craig Adams – Beau Bennett
Brooks Orpik – Mark Eaton
Douglas Murray – Matt Niskanen
Deryk Engelland – Robert Bortuzzo
Marc Andre Fleury in Goal