Tonight, the Carolina Hurricanes are in the Steel City and will face off against the NHL’s best player from the last 17 years. They are in Pittsburgh for a tilt with the Penguins that will alter the standings at the top of the Metropolitan Division. The winner of this game will take an undisputed lead of the NHL’s toughest division. This is going to be a fantastic game. The fast and furious Hurricanes, or the star talent of the Penguins.
Pittsburgh is coming into this game wanting to avenge a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in their last game, but since the end of November, this Penguins team really has been white-hot. They’ve been playing out of their minds. Now, they have been in a little bit of a blip, going 5-2-3 in their last 10, but they’ve won 4 of their last five. They’re not coming into this game costing. They’re a difficult team to play against.
This game is a big one for Jesperi Kotkaniemi. With the absence of Vincent Trocheck with an upper-body injury, the Finn will get a chance higher up the lineup. He’s been fantastic as a center lower down the lineup, and when he was moved up the lineup because of the Canes COVID outbreak, he looked right at home. This is very much an audition for Kotkaniemi to get a top-six role for the future.
Tonight, this will really outline the strengths and weaknesses of the team moving towards the trade deadline. A strong performance could push the front office to add to this core and push for the cup now. A bad performance may sway the organization to not go the rental route and try to make changes to the core of this team. Not moving big names out, but changing the longer-term support pieces.
This team is going to need to perform well in this game. In recent games against Stanley Cup contenders, the Hurricanes have buckled. They lost to Toronto, they lost to Minnesota… Pittsburgh is a team that could represent the Metropolitan in the Eastern Conference Finals. If Carolina intends to be the team that wins the cup, they will need to go through this team most likely. Start it off with a win tonight.