Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 02/22/11 at 10:35 AM ET
Tonight in Raleigh, the Hurricanes and Rangers will meet for the final time this season, and there’s quite a bit on the line. If Carolina can win in regulation, they will move into a points tie with the Rangers, as both teams will have 66 points. The first tiebreaker is games played, and since Carolina has a game in hand, they would move into seventh place in the East.
So far this season, the Hurricanes have gone 2-0-1 against the Blueshirts, and the only other game at the RBC Center resulted in a 4-1 win for the Canes.
Both teams have been struggling a bit of late, and now the Rangers are beset with injuries. The biggest injury is the concussion symptoms that star Marian Gaborik is having. He didn’t even accompany the team to Raleigh, so he’s likely to be out for a while.
It looks like Carolina will continue to be without defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who is day-to-day with a “lower body” injury. He’s been the target of a lot of criticism lately and the subject of a lot of trade talk. With the trading deadline less than a week away, I expect all of that talk to intensify, but I don’t expect any move involving Pitkanen. It’s true that he has a few defensive zone breakdowns, and it’s true that he goes into Joniland occasionally, where nobody has any clue why he does what he does. However, he’s a beast when it comes to ice time. He doesn’t wear down. Still, though, the debate is whether you would spread the minutes out among the other guys with less skill, or leave the skilled but sometimes unaccountable guy out there. When Pitkanen is on his game, he’s unbelievable. When he’s not, you have to cringe when you watch him climb over the boards in the last minutes of regulation or overtime. Unfortunately, this season has been more of the latter.
All that said, it looks like the Canes will get at least one more close look at recently acquired blueliner Derek Joslin. Unless Carolina trades away Pitkanen, Joslin will be reassigned to Charlotte sometime quite soon. He played a limited role in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Devils, with just 11:07 of ice time. He was on the ice for the Devils’ first goal and also for Carolina’s only goal and he finished with a +/- of zero. He was pretty much fresh off the plane and hadn’t had time to learn his teammates’ names, let alone their styles or the team’s system. He’s gotten rave reviews from former Hurricane Bret Hedican, who knows Joslin by being part of the Sharks’ on-air teevee crew.
After tonight’s game, Carolina will still be in the group of eight, no matter what happens, but they’d like to put some distance between themselves and Buffalo. At this point, they also have to worry about the scorching hot Devils, who have won like 43 games in a row. As recently as two weeks ago, the Devils were thought to be hopelessly out of it, but they keep winning and everyone else keeps playing mediocre hockey. Right now, the Devils are only ten points out of eighth place with 23 games to play. It’s certainly not out of the question, but it’s going to be almost impossible for them to keep their torrid pace going.
Anyway, after tonight, the Canes will have 21 games on the schedule, and coach Paul Maurice will say that they have to treat it like those are three seven-game playoff series. If they win tonight and get twelve wins down the stretch, that gives them at least 90 points. Typically, it takes 92 or more to secure a playoff spot in the East. So assuming that a few of their losses are in overtime or shootout, this should do the trick.
At some point, Justin Peters is going to have to start in nets. Cam Ward has started every game since the Nixon administration and it’s not doing Peters any good to only be the goalie in practice sessions. They will need him to be game-ready when the playoffs start. Although Ward is a workhorse, you never know what might happen.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.