Hurricanes-Coyotes: Game Preview

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IFebruary 7, 2009

The Carolina Hurricanes (26-22-5) play the Phoenix Coyotes (24-24-5) at Arena tonight at 7 PM local time.

The Hurricanes enter the game having won five of seven, including an impressive shootout win against San Jose at the Shark Tank on Thursday night.

The Coyotes have lost five straight heading into the contest.  The last time the 'Canes played a desperate team (the Canucks), they stuck with them but lost on a skilled late goal.

The Hurricanes' recent transition to consistent winning has coincided with an improvement in overall team play. 

Earlier in the season, the 'Canes didn't play consistently, and their record eventually showed it.  This trend was worst when Carolina suffered through a listless five-game losing streak. 

That skid was so bad it looked like nobody was even trying except star center Eric Staal, who was extremely frustrated that he knew he could do what was asked of him but still couldn't get it done. 

Now the Hurricanes are winning consistently.  If the offense can't find a way to score, goaltender Cam Ward makes saves, no matter how difficult, until someone puts the puck in the back of the net.  If Ward is having trouble stopping shots, the offense keeps pace with the other team.

Because Ward is playing some of his best hockey of the season—and doing it consistently—backup Michael Leighton isn't called upon to have a gem of a game—a daunting task for a goalie who doesn't see much action—nearly as often. 

In fact, Ward had started 17 straight games until Leighton started against the Sharks.

In the Hurricanes' winning stretch, Ward has started six times and allowed three or more goals only twice.  He even posted two shutouts and accumulated a 94 percent save rate.

More than a dozen different Carolina skaters have scored at least one point in the last seven games, and several have scored more than one.

The defensive effort has been spectacular, taking exception to the Sharks and Canucks games.  Passes have been interrupted and picked off in all three zones, though mainly the neutral and defensive zones, opposing puck handlers stick-checked, shots blocked, hits well-placed and timed.  The Hurricanes have just been putting together complete defensive efforts lately.

Don't expect the 'Canes to stop playing as a team tonight.  Even in the recent few losses, the Hurricanes have played as a team.

The main reason for the Coyotes' recent skid has been inconsistency, on offense, defense, and in goaltending.  They just haven't been playing like a team.  Whenever the offense is hot, the goaltender allows too many goals.  If the goalie is stopping a lot of shots, the offense can't score.

The power play has also been a perplexing issue for the Coyotes.  They have converted just three of their last 25 power plays for goals on their current dismal stretch.

The Coyotes have some talent.  But not enough to win a shootout.  The Hurricanes have an outstanding record when they score three or more goals—18-0-1.  If the Hurricanes score three or more goals, as they've done in three of their past four games, then the Coyotes don't have much of chance.  And the odds of that happening are high, considering the Coyotes don't play defense well (only six of their skaters have a positive plus-minus).

The Hurricanes have been scoring a lot lately, and the Coyotes are a poor defensive team that can't score.  This one should be a Hurricanes victory. 

The Hurricanes are 13-12-3 on the road this season.

The Coyotes are 15-8-2 at home this season.