Hurricanes and Thrashers To Square Off In Southeast Divisional Contest

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IJanuary 31, 2009

The Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta Thrashers will face off in a battle of Southeast Division teams at eight o'clock PM tonight at the RBC Center in Raleigh, NC.

After losing five straight games between Jan. 8 and 17, the Hurricanes have won three of four. They only lost to the New York Rangers 3-2 in their first game after the All-Star break.

The Thrashers have been up and down all month. They lost four of their first six games in January. Then they won three in a row. Tonight they will try to avoid their fourth consecutive loss.

Goaltender Cam Ward has been instrumental to the Hurricanes' recent run. He has averaged 32 saves, maintained a 94 percent save rate, and allowed two or fewer goals in three of his last four games.

Ward has made explosive lateral saves and shown better puck control lately. As a result, he's been named the second star in two of his last three starts, and the first star in the third.

Scoring has recently been dispersed among a multitude of both forwards and defensemen, taking the burden off of All-Star center Eric Staal.

It's hard to find anyone who has gotten considerable ice time lately and hasn't tallied a point or two in Carolina's recent run.

The defense has improved because Joni Pitkanen is on the ice so much it gives the other defensemen plenty of time to recharge and get ready for the next shift.

Carolina just seems to be playing better in their own offensive zone lately.  Passes are getting picked off and dumped out quickly, and the rush materializes in a hurry.  Guys are winning battles for the puck.

The Hurricanes have played disciplined hockey in their last few games, taking more than three penalties only once.

The Red and White (and sometimes Black) have risen to the occasion when forced to kill penalties, allowing one power play goal on their last 13 penalty kills.

The power play must improve. In the recent winning streak, the 'Canes have only scored two goals on 18 power plays. The power play is currently 26th in the NHL, at about 15 percent.

It's no wonder that the Hurricanes have won three of their last four and just barely came up short in their only loss.  They're playing pretty good hockey right now (aside from the power play), and it shows.

The Thrashers hit a new low last night—they lost to the New York Islanders in a high-scoring game, 5-4.

A big part of the reason for Atlanta's recent three-game skid is the lack of production from captain and leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk.  Kovalchuk has a plus-minus rating of -5 in the last three games (-2, -2, and -1, from the most recent game to least recent). 

He's scored two goals during that time, which is decent for some players, but he's better than that. His line just isn't playing very good defense.

Goaltending has also been a huge problem for the Thrashers.

Kari Lehtonen, who is supposed to be the starter, surrendered four goals to the Islanders on just 15 shots and was pulled less than 15 minutes into the game.

Backup John Hedberg has struggled mightily all season, posting a 6-8 record with three overtime losses, averaging 3.62 goals against per game, and stopping about 89 percent of the shots he sees.

The Blue and Gold is playing poor defense. On their last three games they've allowed 12 goals. They gave up five goals in two of those games.

This led to being outscored 12-7 in those games.

Like Carolina, Atlanta has killed off penalties well lately, not allowing a single goal despite being short-handed 12 times in their last three contests.

They also can't score a goal with an extra man.  They've cashed in for only one goal on 12 power plays.  

Two of the losses in the Thrashers' current fall came on the road.  The situation gets no better tonight, as they must travel to Raleigh, NC.  The Thrashers have been thoroughly unsuccessful on the road overall this year, winning just eight of 26 games away from Atlanta.

The Hurricanes have won 13 of 24 games at the RBC Center this season, including seven of their last nine dating back to Dec. 7.

Considering how poorly the Thrashers are playing and how well the Hurricanes are playing right now, the 'Canes should win.

In the teams' first meeting, on Nov. 9, the Thrashers had started out ice cold, while the Hurricanes were out to a great start.

But the Thrashers came into Raleigh and dealt Carolina a 5-2 loss.  Don't be surprised if the Thrashers pull a fast one and win this game.