Hurricane Warning up in Pittsburgh: Game Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins (2-3-0) are bracing for a nasty storm as the red hot Carolina Hurricanes (4-1-1) come to town on Friday night. The Canes, who have shaken off the post cup doldrums of last year and lead the Southeast Division, have only lost 1 of 4 on the road this year. Currently in second place in the Eastern Conference, Carolina presents a formidable challenge for the 14th place Penguins who are struggling to find defensive consistency and get to 0.500. For the Hurricanes, it is game 5 of a 6-game road trip, in which they have won three straight by outscoring their opponents 15 to 6, after being shutout 2-0 in Washngton, DC.

Carolina has gotten excellent goaltending from Cam Ward, who is 4-0-1 and has a goals-against average of 1.79. After winning the 2006 Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy, Ward fell short of expectations last year going 30-21-6 with a 2.93 GAA, and the Canes missed the playoffs. Ward went to work in the off-season and shed 20 pounds to put him in the best shape of his career. “I’m feeling better on the ice because of it, and it’s paying dividends for me”, said Ward, who is 6-2-0 in eight career starts against the Penguins. The Hurricanes own the bragging rights having won five of the last six games against Pittsburgh, and 8 of the last 12 on the Penguins’ ice. Be on the lookout for sniper Eric Staal, Jordan’s older brother, who is tied for the Canes points lead with 8 points (5G, 3A) in 6 games. Justin Williams also has 8 points (1G, 7A). Ironman Rod Brind’Amour (1G, 5A) and Jeff Hamilton (2G, 4A) each have 6 points, and need to be controlled.

The Penguins continue the struggle to find their game and to get consistency out of their defensive and goaltending corps. While offensive production has been good of late with ten goals in the last two games, they have given up 9 goals in the same timeframe and have been unable to put any kind of streak together (wins or losses). The Penguins, who will be playing their 4th home game, have only won one and have lost the last 2 in front of the home crowd. The Penguins power play was on fire in their loss against the Devils on Wednesday night, going 3 for 5.  However, the defensive and goaltending woes continue for the Pens who have averaged 4 goals against per game.  The Penguins need to tighten up the Defense and get a better game out of Marc-Andre Fleury who has struggled with consistency and confidence so far. 

Maxime Talbot has continued his relatively torrid play having scored 4 goals in 5 games.  Perhaps it is the Fu Man Chu?  Whatever it is, we hop ehe keeps it up!  Evgeni Malkin leadss the Pens with 7 points and seems to have found his scoring consistency by notching at least a point in every game played so far this year. Sidney Crosby has put up 6 points but has been a minus 4 on the year.  Some have hinted that the pressures of Captaincy have detracted his focus from his scoring, although I doubt it.  I think it has more to do with his line matchings than his being distracted by playing a leadership role…..that seems to come naturally to Sid.  Jordan Staal, who has looked impressive at times, is still looking for his scoring touch with just one assist of the season.   How many “almost” goals has he scored anyways?  If this were horseshoes, he would be ahead….but alas, it is hockey.   Hopefully the rivalry of playing his brother will finally allow him to break out of the sophomore funk he appears to be in. 

NHLPens.com Prediction:  I haven’t been too good at predicting the outcome of late, but have not been bad at picking the goal scorers.  I am hoping this is another miss for me…..but I have to pick the Hurricanes to win this one folks.  They just have too much positive momentum, and goaltending that has been second to none.  With the way the Penguins have been playing in their own end, there is little hope that they will be able to fight off the storm.  I suspect after last game’s penalty fest, the Penguins will be ultra cautious on the ice and that will benefit the Canes.  You will notice that I used the word “cautious” and not “disciplined”.  I am predicting a 5-2 loss for the Penguins with the Pens goals coming from Staal and Sykora.  I predict Malkin will get the assist on Staal’s goal.  Of course, I hope I have gotten it all wrong. 

Be sure to join us in the live in-game chat when the puck drops by going to http://NHLPens.com/in-game.  We have attracted a few regulars and get a number of others who pass through to comment on the game while it is in progress.  It is an enjoyable way to share your joy and frustration with other Pens fans!  It is essentially an in-game, online tailgate party.  Feel free to join us!

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