Tonight, the Carolina Hurricanes host the Pittsburgh Penguins for a good old-fashioned Metropolitan Division standoff.
This will be the first game of a back-to-back at PNC Arena this weekend. Tomorrow’s opponent will be the struggling Vancouver Canucks.
The Canes and Penguins faced off three times in less than a month prior to the holidays.
The boys from Raleigh came out on top in all three contests, with two of those victories in OT. All three games were decided by just one goal.
Currently, the Penguins hold the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference with 48 points in 41 games. They are 1 point ahead of the trailing New York Islanders and 4 points behind the Washington Capitals for the first Wild Card position.
The Penguins have played average of late, winning just 3 of their last 10 games.
Carolina and Pittsburgh were neck and neck in the standings at the time of the 3 matches over the span of November and December, but the Canes find themselves 11 points ahead with a game in hand.
The Sidney Crosby-led club has struggled on the road this year with a 10-9-2 record.
In their last match, they hosted the Winnipeg Jets and were defeated by a score of 4-1. The lone score for the home team was by Drew O’Connor.
Dustin Tokarski was in between the pipes that night and made 36 saves to take the loss.
Starting netminder, Tristan Jarry, was placed on the IR recently after suffering a lower-body injury during the first period of the Winter Classic at Fenway Park.
Casey DeSmith is the backup and has struggled in Jarry’s place of late, but I would expect to see him in the crease this evening.
To no one’s surprise, Crosby leads this team in points with 48, posting 21 goals and 27 assists. Surprisingly only 3 of those goals have come on the power play.
Jake Guentzel has 17 goals to trail Crosby in that category. Evgeni Malkin trails Crosby in points with 39, 25 of those points are helpers.
Due to injuries on the blue line, the Penguins have not had much production from the defense this season.
Jeff Petry leads all active defensemen with just 12 points and 3 goals. Petry has done this in just 28 games.
Normally leading the way on defense is Kris Letang but he has had a tough season of injuries and is currently out with an injury and grieving the loss of his father.
As mentioned before, Jarry is out and DeSmith and Tokarski have the responsibility of sharing the crease now. Tokarski has one win and a 2.67 GAA in 2 games this season.
DeSmith has started 15 games with an underwhelming 3.17 GAA with a .904 save percentage.
Speaking of goaltending, the real question in Carolina will be how Rod Brind’Amour will be handling the three goalies’ situation.
Frederik Andersen returned from injury to grab the victory in Columbus on Thursday. Surely, Andersen will be eased back into things and will not take a heavy load to start.
This will be the main reason that the three goalies will remain on the roster for the near future.
With a back-to-back this weekend, it is a great chance for Brind’Amour to play two goalies this weekend. Which two goalies though?
Pyotr Kochetkov was dressed as the backup goalkeeper in Columbus so that may be an indication of the depth chart right now. Though Kochetkov has struggled of late, the divisional opponent is the more important contest of the weekend.
My guess is the rotation falls on Antti Raanta tonight with Kochetkov backing him up.
Raanta will get a chance to show why he has been a staple in the crease for Brind’Amour, but Kochetkov is certainly waiting for his chance.
Sunday I would guess Andersen returns as it would be a week of no starts after returning by Thursday’s matchup in against the Minnesota Wild.
Again, Kochetkov is available and ready to relieve if any issues occur.
Kochetkov is more than likely on his way back to Chicago, but it is not for his overall performance.