PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. Carolina Hurricanes
Consol Energy Center, 7:30 PM, Root Sports
The last week of the regular season has been almost unbearable to watch if you’re a Penguins fan. The Pens have dropped 2 of their last 3, but none of it has mattered because for the last seven days they’ve had their spot in the postseason locked in. There’s been lots of intrigue around the rest of the league. In the East, 5 teams clinched playoff berths, the Capitals in particular have been impressive. Nobody really wants to earn the number 2 spot and the Northeast Division championship. In the West, the Blackhawks won the President’s Trophy and the Blue Jackets are still possibly capable of making the playoffs. But the Pens haven’t been doing anything, and you know what? That’s just fine with us. The Pens have been getting rest, they’ve been getting healthy, and there hasn’t been any of the traditional drama of the last week of the season.
But in some way, shape, or form, tonight’s game does matter. Before the start of tonight’s game the Penguins will have a much better understanding of who they’ll be playing in the Conference Quarterfinals: the Islanders played their final regular season game last night, which ended in an overtime loss. By earning one point the Isles moved up to sixth in the conference. However, the Rangers just dismantled the Devils 4-0, leaving only the Islanders and Senators as possible opponents.
And then there are the players. As we reported yesterday, Paul Martin and James Neal will be back in the lineup tonight and the Penguins are expected to utilize the following lines (at least amongst forwards):
So in other words, the Pens look to reunite the “Best Line in Hockey, 2012 Ed,” and it seems likely that Sid will resume skating between Duper and Iggy when he’s healthy. From there Jussi will probably drop to the fourth line flanked (definitely) by Craig Adams and one of Tanner Glass, Tyler Kennedy, and Beau Bennett depending on matchups. We’re not expecting the world from either Paul-Mart or James Neal, but we hope they can come in, look comfortable, and play in control.
And maybe we’re just being sentimental, but we want to win this one. The Pens have dropped their last two, and it would look much better to win your last regular season game going into the playoffs than to lose three in a row on your way. Also, Jordan Staal finally returns to Consol Energy Center ice tonight. The Pens should want to beat him. Speaking of, Josh Yohe wrote a greatly condescending piece comparing his season to Brandon Sutter’s. Hard to believe that Sutter hasn’t played in the postseason yet, he must have joined the big team in 2010.
Does today’s game matter? Not in a literal sense, but from a symbolic sense this is not one to take lightly.
So ready for the playoffs. Go Pens.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ Carolina Hurricanes
PNC Arena, 7:00 PM, Root Sports
Interesting factoid: the Hurricanes are the only team that the Penguins have played this year that they have not beaten yet. The ‘Canes are also the only team that the Penguins have not played at least twice, so that could be a factor.
Things looked good for the Hurricanes at the start of the season, they made the seemingly game changing move to bring in Jordan Staal, they took a big gamble and were handsomely rewarded by Alexander Semin. Cam Ward looked like an early Vezina candidate and the Southeast Division seemed to be living up to its reputation as the worst division in hockey. It seemed like smooth sailing forcthe Hurricanes, but then the wheels fell off, for all we know the last game they won was against the Penguins back in February. They’ve fallen to within two points of the worst record in the Eastern Conference (the bottom three Eastern Conference teams? Florida is last followed by Tampa and Carolina, worst division indeed).
And any time you talk Pens-Canes we have to come back to the Jordan Staal trade. In terms of the guys at the NHL level, here’s the breakdown:
Sure Jordan has a few more assists, but this has been far from the offensive explosion that most expected of him when he was freed from the shackles of third line responsibility in Pittsburgh. Further Staalsy’s -14 is indicative of a trend that we wrote about last year, he isn’t the player he used to be in the defensive zone. If Staal and Sutter are comparable in production that makes for a win for the Penguins, Sutter is less than half the cost of Staal, and looks to be a perfect fit in Pittsburgh.
From there the trade just gets worse and worse if you’re the Hurricanes. After struggling to break the lineup in the early months of the season, Brian Dumolin has become a force in Wilkes-Barre. Like such a force that he may have been the one to make Joe Morrow expendable.
Pittsburgh’s 8th overall pick they acquired from Carolina turned into Derrick Pouliot, who had a pretty good season too.
But those are things to consider in the future. Tonight isn’t going to be determined based on prospects, and the Hurricanes should have plenty of incentive to get up for this game. And the Penguins need a win, the Canadiens have moved to within three points of the Pens and the Canadiens have an extra game in hand. After years of failing to live up to the Civic Arena, CEC has become a definite home ice advantage for the Pens this year, locking it up for the playoffs is key.
The lineups are going to be a mess tonight. In the absence of James Neal we expect to finally see the “first line” broken up. Here is our SWAG method (scientific wild ass guess) at what the Pens will do for tonight’s game.
Defense could go one of several ways depending on whether Letang can come back tonight, but for that we predict:
Niskanen-Murray Orpik-Eaton Engelland-Bortuzzo
Might make sense to play Vokoun tonight, don’t know why other than just to do it.
Beat them while they’re down. Go Pens.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ Carolina Hurricanes
PNC Center, Raleigh, NC, 7:00PM, Root Sports, NHL Network (local blackout)
No doubt about it, if you’re a fan of the Pens or of hockey in general, this is an emotional game. It almost feels like you’re talking about a videogame to say, for the first time in his 7 year NHL career, Jordan Staal will be playing AGAINST the Penguins. And make no doubt about it, Staal is a great player, and absolutely a guy that young hockey players should strive to emulate. He leads with his play, he excels in all facets of the game except for the power play, and he’s basically just a good guy. I know I speak for Mike (at the least, haven’t asked Andrew) when I say that J. Staal will continue to be one of our favorite hockey players, no matter what team he plays for.
With that said though, it’s important to understand why Staal is gone. You can believe whatever sappy narrative you want to believe, he wanted to play with his brother, he had outgrown his role in Pittsburgh, or whatever the case may be. But in reality, it all comes down to money. I’m not saying that Staal wanted more money than he was worth, it’s just that his skills weren’t really worth what the Hurricanes ended up paying him for, at least not in the eyes of Ray Shero. There are so few teams in the league that can even claim to have a serviceable number 2 center, let alone a perennial MVP-caliber player at that position, let alone a possession control monster like Staal as the number three option. The only way for Staal to realize his true market value was to move to another team, one that needed a #2 center. As such, Jordan Staal’s trade might go down as one of the strongest “true” hockey trades of all time, both teams got stronger, and all the players who moved got to a “better” place than they had been before.
There might be truth to the statement that Staal had outgrown his role with the Penguins, you could see it last year, he didn’t want to take all the defensive zone faceoffs, all the tough checking assignments, he got to spend nearly the entire year playing second line center and he seemed to relish the opportunity to play offense. As such, Sutter is in many ways more useful than Staal, he’ll never question his role or look uncomfortable doing it. No doubt Staal has been good for Carolina but Sutter has been exactly as advertised here in Pittsburgh: a competent point getter, good on faceoffs, and solid in his own zone, when you factor in the other pieces of the trade, Brian Dumolin, and one of the CHL’s best defensemen Derrick Pouliot, the final value of this trade could like significantly different down the road.
So what it all comes down to is, don’t be afraid to cheer for Jordan Staal, he’ll probably always be remembered for images like this:
No point commentating on who the starting goalie will be, I’m sure you can figure it out. No other line changes are expected although Bortuzzo looks to be in over Despres tonight.
The NHL is trying to make this into an event that’s bigger than it really is. Just ask the league how Alexander Semin’s first game against the Capitals turned out, they should probably chill out.
The Calgary Flames are trying to land Ryan O’Reilly on an offer sheet. Offer sheets are the most gutless things in the league, and I’m not just saying that because O’Reilly would look great in a Pens sweater.
And I thought hurricane season was over. Go Pens.