Key Observations Heading Into Game 37 Between the Hurricanes and Penguins

Published on December 31st, 2014

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By: Andy Hughes (@PensNation_Andy)

The Pittsburgh Penguins will host a New Year’s Eve game against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight in what will be the final game for the year of 2014. This year hasn’t been very kind to the Penguins. They’ve gone through so many injuries and non-hockey related emergencies. It all started in the beginning of the year when Kris Letang suffered a stroke, which caused him to miss 10 weeks of action. In late October, the Penguins announced that Olli Maatta had a cancerous tumor in his neck. Maatta somehow only missed 2 weeks of play, but then another Penguins player got forced out of the lineup. That player was Pascal Dupuis, who learned he had a blood clot in his lung in mid-November. It should be noted that Dupuis also went through surgery earlier this year for a torn ACL. While 2014 has been pretty devastating for Pittsburgh off the ice, it has not been devastating on the ice. Led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins (22-9-5) sit at the top of the Metropolitan Division with 49 points so far this season. While that’s good to hear, Pittsburgh is now facing some adversity for the first time this season as the Penguins have lost 4 games in a row (3 in regulation and 1 in a shootout). Every team goes through some slumps though and the Penguins are no different than any other team in the NHL. In addition to that, it’s difficult to face healthy NHL teams with the lineup Mike Johnston has to throw out there each game. The team’s injured-reserve list currently has the following players on it: Dupuis, Maatta, Craig Adams, Beau Bennett, Blake Comeau, Patric Hornqvist, Zach Sill, Scott Wilson, Christian Ehrhoff, Paul Martin. Steve Downie and Thomas Greiss have also been out for a few games as a result of the mumps. However, it looks like Greiss may be ready to return since the team re-assigned Jeff Zatkoff to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton yesterday. Johnston would not rule out Bennett for a return tonight either, but we will see if he indeed does come back tonight. There is also a possibility of seeing Adams and Ehrhoff return to the lineup tonight as well. Adams, Ehrhoff and Bennett all practiced today at the morning skate and will be game-time decisions. Downie also participated in the skate, but Johnston ruled him out for tonight’s game. It has been cool to see some of the young defensemen like Scott Harrington, Brian Dumoulin and Derrick Pouliot get a chance to play in the NHL, but the Penguins have way too many forwards out right now and it is starting to catch up with the team. Pittsburgh dressed Andrew Ebbett, Bobby Farnham, Jayson Megna, Bryan Rust and Dominik Uher in their 3-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils Monday night. Ebbett and Megna were at fault for 2 of the 3 goals against. New Jersey scored a power play goal after Ebbett took a bad penalty to tie the game and then Megna blew a tire which allowed former Penguins great Jaromir Jagr go up the ice and score the game winning goal. After the game, Johnston was frustrated, saying “We got a good response from half of our group and we didn’t get a good response from the rest of them. We have to squeeze more out of those guys.”

Johnston hopes to see a response from his players tonight in a game against the struggling Hurricanes (10-22-4), who are currently the worst team in the Eastern Conference. Carolina is 2-7-1 in their last 10 games and are coming off a 3-1 loss of their own to the Montreal Canadiens. Although the game did not go the way the Hurricanes wanted it to, they did get center Jordan Staal back. It was Staal’s first game this season after suffering a broken fibula in the preseason. The former Penguins center registered an assist in his season debut and will look to notch more points tonight against his former teammates. Staal centered the top line alongside his brother Eric Staal and Nathan Gerbe to start the game on Monday night. It has been another tough year for the Hurricanes as they have struggled to get in the playoff race for a few years now. Eric Staal, the captain of the squad, leads the team in points with 20 (8 goals and 12 assists) while Jiri Tlusty leads the team in goals with 10. The Penguins and Hurricanes apparently like to meet at CONSOL Energy Center days before or after a major holiday this year. Carolina played in Pittsburgh on Black Friday and defeated the Penguins 4-2. Tlusty had a big game that night, totaling 2 goals and an assist. Gerbe also scored a goal in addition to Patrick Dwyer. Letang and Hornqvist scored the goals for Pittsburgh while Fleury made 34 saves in the loss. Four goals in a game was a big day for the Hurricanes, who have only scored 72 goals this season. That’s the lowest total in the NHL. They have been so bad that they do not have any positive plus-minus players except Andrej Nestrasil, who has only played in 8 games. Cam Ward has a 2.41 goals-against average so far this season, but as they say, “You can’t win if you can’t score.”

It’s always fun to see Staal back in Pittsburgh, especially since he did not play in the game on Black Friday at CONSOL Energy Center. The whole Staal experiment hasn’t worked out very well in Carolina, but GM Ron Francis is hoping Jordan’s return will boost the team. At the 2012 NHL Draft, the Penguins traded Staal to Carolina for Brandon Sutter, Dumoulin and the 8th overall pick, which turned out to be Pouliot. It would have been cool to see all of the assets from the trade on the ice tonight but the Penguins sent Dumoulin back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton yesterday along with Uher. Regardless, it’s good to see that the Penguins received a pretty nice package from Rutherford in that trade.

Pittsburgh could use a win tonight to get them back on track en route to a great year of 2015. The Penguins have split the season series with Carolina so far, but the Hurricanes have outscored Pittsburgh 6-5 in those 2 games. Carolina has burned the Penguins on the power play so far this year, scoring 4 of their 6 goals with the man advantage. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has not converted on any of their chances against the Hurricanes’ penalty kill.

It has been another great year for the site and I just wanted to thank everyone for reading our articles and listening to our radio shows. We plan on doing even more in 2015 and we’re very excited about that! The Penguins, on the other hand, won’t mind turning their calendars to January 2015. Let’s hope they get better luck in the next 12 months. Happy New Year!