By Michael Smith
Raleigh, NC October 28, 2013 – For the second time in less than three weeks, the Carolina Hurricanes will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in a battle between the second and first place teams, respectively, in the Metropolitan Division.
The Hurricanes would like a different outcome.
In Pittsburgh on Oct. 8, a three-goal third period from the Penguins, punctuated by Jussi Jokinen’s hat trick, buried the Canes in a 5-2 defeat, their first regulation loss of the young season. The two teams combined for 71 shots (Pittsburgh had 37, Carolina had 34), the most in a Carolina game this season.
“I’m not so much concerned about the amount of shots. It’s where the shots come from and the quality of shots. They’ve got some firepower over there,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “The last couple of times playing Pittsburgh, we’ve given them too many easy plays around the net and gave them more time than we wanted to for them to execute and make those plays. So we’ve got to tighten it up and play the game the right way.”
Playing the game the right way begins in the first period, and the Hurricanes have made it a point to address their starts after spotting Minnesota and Colorado two goals each in the opening frames of their last two losses.
“As a group, consistently, we just have to be smarter with some of the decisions we’re making, especially in the first period,” Eric Staal said after Sunday’s practice. “It’s just about being smarter in our game and not beating ourselves in certain positions on the ice. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
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“We don’t have to try to go out and win the game in the first. It’s more to go out and do the right things in the first,” Muller said. “Come out with enthusiasm, but channel it in the right way that we’re not giving up quality scoring chances.”
Patrick Dwyer will draw back into the lineup after missing two games with an upper-body injury. He’ll slot in on the right side on the second line, which should regularly match up against Sidney Crosby’s first line.
“Patty’s ready to go. He feels good,” Muller said. “That’s a pretty solid line to match up with some of their key lines.”
Justin Peters’ last start against the Penguins came in an 8-3 trouncing in the 2012-13 regular-season finale. But that was then, and this is now.
“We went in with a pretty depleted lineup last year in the last game of the year. I don’t really compare it,” Muller said. “We’re a whole different group right now. We’re fresh, and it’s a big game, even for this time of year.”
Nathan Gerbe will play in his 200th NHL game tonight against the same team that he faced in his second NHL game. He’ll do so skating on the right wing opposite Alexander Semin, who is riding a three game point streak (1g, 3a), on the first line.
The Canes have earned points in 13 of their last 18 home games against Pittsburgh, and they hold a 15-8-3 home record against the Pens since moving to Raleigh in 1999.
Tonight’s game also features two teams looking to get off the schneid; the Canes have lost two straight, and the Penguins have dropped three in a row.
“I think [tonight] will be an interesting game. There will be a lot of emotion and intensity,” Muller said. “We’re looking at it like we lost two. They’re going to be hungry and not very happy, and we’re not.”
“We feel we’ve got a really good team in here that could be higher up on the [standings] than we are. We don’t want to be satisfied with where we’re at,” Staal said. “We want to make sure we’re striving to be one of the top teams in the East.”