One year ago, the Carolina Hurricanes were in a truly epic funk - they lost a franchise record number of games to start the season, and things were dragged down even further when they came to Columbus and lost both the hockey game and franchise netminder Cam Ward, who got cut through a gap in his leg pads by a skate blade and ended up requiring surgery (and most of the season) to recover.
There was a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, however - that frustrating season lead to 2010 first round pick Jeff Skinner, who has made a major impact for Carolina this season, and is a big part of the Calder Trophy conversation.
Much like Columbus, the Canes enjoyed a strong run that put them back in playoff contention before dropping off for a stretch. The difference is that the row to how is a much gentler one in the Eastern Conference, and despite having a nearly identical record (Carolina has one more OT/shootout loss), they're only two points back of a postseason berth, while the Blue Jackets find themselves sliding further and further back of the pack.
|Game Time: 7:00 pm EST
|TV: Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
|Radio: 97.1 WFAN
|Blue Jackets vs Hurricanes coverage|
There's not much else to say about last night's game that hasn't already been said, so perhaps the best thing to do is focus on our opponents.
The hosts of this year's all star game, the Hurricanes proved that it may have been several years since they hoisted the Cup, but love affair in Raleigh is still going strong. Caneiacs packed the building, and exposed a wide swath of NHL fans to their tailgating culture. (One of my greatest regrets about Nationwide? Tailgating is prohibited there by the city. Wouldn't it be kinda cool to go down for a Saturday afternoon or evening tilt with friends, a big ass portable BBQ, and make a day of it? Walk to North Market to get supplies, cook up, hang out, maybe play some street hockey in the lot...ah, well.)
Eric Staal and the aforementioned Skinner are the straws that stir the drink offensively, though they also get production from Tuomo Ruutu (he's the quiet one, not the finger biter) and Jussi Jokinen, shootout artiste. The Canes made moves to improve their supporting cast by grabbing Bryan Allen, Brett Carson, and Cory Stillman at the trade deadline.
Personally, I'm also a huge fan of North Carolina style BBQ, with vinegar based sauces and the love of all things pork. I can think of a lot worse fates than getting a plate of ribs, smoked for five or six hours, or biting into a juicy pulled pork sandwich after the pork shoulder has been bathing in glorious smoke, low and slow, for the better part of a day. Pork that melts in your mouth, with that great crackle of carmelized spicy flavors from the bark where the rub built up on the surface, with that beautiful tell-tale smoke ring, complimented by tart cole slaw and sharp sauce that's so spicy you could use it for rocket fuel.
Sorry, where was I?
Keys To The Game:
- Short Shifts - With both teams playing the night before, energy levels will be key. I'm expecting we'll see Craig Rivet and Chris Clark back in the lineup tonight - both are familiar with Carolina thanks to their careers in the Eastern Conference, and they'll bring fresh legs. While the team has not annouced a starter, I could also see Mathieu Garon going tonight, for similar reasons. On the other side of the fence, the Canes have recalled Drayson Bowman, a 2007 third round pick, from their AHL club in Charlotte to give them an extra body for the back to back.
- No Freebies - Columbus has been beating up on Eastern Conference teams for the past several seasons, and this year is no exception, but the Hurricanes are no slouch in cross-conference play. Since beating the Wild in both of their games in the NHL's European showcase to start the season, the Hurricanes have gone 10-4-2 against Western teams. On the other hand, more than a third of those games, including several of Carolina's victories, came in the shootout or OT.
- Defensive Struggles? - The Canes have won 31 games, the same as Columbus, but I can't help but notice that with rare exceptions like their 2-1 loss last night to Washington, the Canes tend to find themselves in high scoring affairs, win or lose. 6-5, 7-4, even 8 goal games are not uncommon both for and against this club. A high scoring, fast tempo game suits the Canes much more than the Jackets. Locking things down and challenging them for the puck as much as possible is going to be the way to go.
|Rick Nash||Jakub Voracek|
|R.J. Umberger||Antoine Vermette||Matt Calvert|
|Scottie Upshall||Samuel Pahlsson||Derek Dorsett|
|Chris Clark||Jared Boll|
|Jan Hejda||Sami Lepisto|
|Fedor Tyutin||Marc Methot|
|Craig Rivet||Kris Russell|
|Cory Stillman||Eric Staal||Tuomo Ruutu|
|Jeff Skinner||Jussi Jokinen||Erik Cole|
|Chad LaRose||Brandon Sutter||Jiri Tlusty|
|Drayson Bowman||Patrick Dwyer||Troy Bodie|
|Tim Gleason||Jay Harrison|
|Joe Corvo||Bryan Allen|
|Joni Pitkanen||Jamie McBain|