Hurricanes-Penguins Preview: Didn't Hurricane Season End in September?
After two off days, the Pittsburgh Penguins (4-2-1) will resume action on Thursday night when they play host to the Carolina Hurricanes (3-1-1) at Mellon Arena.
The Penguins' lineup, with which Michel Therrien has become notorious for shuffling on a game-by-game basis, will look a little different from their last contest.
Defenseman Hal Gill missed practice on Wednesday and is questionable for Thursday's game. Per one of the new rules in the NHL, teams are not required to release the nature of injuries that do not warrant a player being placed on the injured reserve. Thus, the nature of Gill's injury is uncertain.
If Gill can't go, veteran defenseman Darryl Sydor will fill his spot on the Penguins' blue line. Sydor has been a healthy scratch since the Penguins' first game in Sweden, so he will likely be more than ready to get back into the lineup.
Going into Thursday, the Penguins have allowed the third most shots on goal per game (33.4). Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin have been stalwarts between the pipes, however expecting them to perform at a high level when they are seeing over 30 shots a game all season long is unrealistic.
The Penguins need to limit the oppositions' shots in order to ease the pressure on their goaltenders.
The Canes were riddled with injuries last season, but as any Penguin fan will tell you, this is no excuse for missing the playoffs.
The Pens lost Sidney Crosby and Fleury for almost half of the regular season and watched Max Talbot and Gary Roberts battle injuries throughout the duration of 2007-08, but still managed to finish second in the Eastern Conference while securing the Atlantic Division Championship for the first time in over a decade.
The Canes have been called upon by the NHL to be early season road warriors, playing just two home games in October and finishing the month with a six game road trip. Their stop in Pittsburgh on Thursday will be the third of six straight games outside of Raleigh.
The Canes boast a forward group headlined by Eric Staal, but driven by the veteran leadership of Ray Whitney and Rod "The Bod" Brind'Amour. Whitney is the only Cane to record a point in every game thus far this season.
The Canes' blue line has undergone a complete overhaul from two seasons ago. Newcomer Joni Pitkanen now headlines the defensive corps, after being acquired from Edmonton in exchange for Erik Cole.
Former Penguin and longtime joke, Josef Melichar, was also picked out of the free agent market by Carolina. It's almost certain that Melichar won't be a factor on Thursday, or on any day for that matter.
Cam Ward has been solid between the pipes for the Canes, coming off of a career season in 2007-08 in which he posted career highs in every major goaltender category.
Rookie goaltender Michael Leighton has been great this season, posting a 2-0-0 record with a 1.92 GAA in just two starts, although it is likely Ward will get the nod against Pittsburgh.
Perhaps the presence of big brother Eric will excel Jordan Staal's game a little on Thursday. Staal has just two points in seven games this season, and if the Penguins want to regain their two line threat from a season ago, Staal has to pick up his game.
Miroslav Satan leads all Penguins with four goals, while Evgeni Malkin (2G, 9A) and Sidney Crosby (1G, 8A) have combined for 20 points in seven games.
Both teams should be fresh on Thursday night, so this game should get off to a quick start.
Hopefully the cold waters of the Three Rivers will be enough to calm the Hurricanes and allow the Pens to win their third game in a row.
Let's Go Pens.
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