Pyotr Kochetkov will be in the crease tonight as the Carolina Hurricanes take on the Vancouver Canucks in Raleigh. The Russian netminder has been out for 26 day with a concussion against the Anaheim Ducks. He has been on the practice ice with the Canes for about two weeks and was at least on paper sent down to the Chicago Wolves during the NHL All-Star Break.
Kochetkov's return means Spencer Martin will be a healthy scratch. After a 28 save night in relief with the Hurricanes in Boston back on the 24th of January, Martin finds himself on the short end of the stick for now. Given Carolina's history with goaltending, that could change very quickly. Even with Freddie Andersen's return to the ice, the goalie game of musical chairs still has just three players.
Carolina will also roll out new lines, aimed as always to generate the most production from every player. Walt Ruff reports Jordan Martinook moving up to play with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teräväinen. Michael Bunting will join Jack Druy and Martin Necas. Seth Jarvis will stick with Jordan Staal as they are rounded out by Jesper Fast. The fourth line has Brandon Lemieux, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen
With games against the Pacific Division leading Canucks, and the Central Division leading Avalanche, then the 3rd place New Jersey Devils, the Hurricanes face perhaps the toughest three game period of the season. To their advantage, all three will be at home at the loudest house in the NHL that is PNC Arena, but none of these games are gimmes. If Carolina can come away with 4 of 6 possible points, they will be lucky. Five of the six would be stellar, and keep the New York Rangers (who have a relatively easy stretch) in reach.
To get the points, the Hurricanes are going to need to stay healthy, and keep hustling. Martin Necas will need to prove his worth and make it hard for Cane GM Don Waddell to start floating his name for trades this off season. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is playing for his professional life, and has to be looking the KHL in the face every day. A point or two in this tough stretch of games would go a long way in putting some distance between him and the trade talk. Although he was great during January, a few points here and there from Teuvo Teräväinen would be much appreciate. Jordan Martinook had a game winner against Bston, but that is in the rear view mirror now. Anything he has in the tank would be welcomed.
This part of the season is when separation between the good teams, and the teams making a deep run to the playoff will start to show. Carolina would do well to hop on their ponies and set a good clip if they have any hopes of catching and passing the Rangers for first place and secure that all important home ice advantage in the playoffs.