Going To Carolina In My Mind . . .
With apologies to James Taylor, I will not be physically present in Carolina tonight (though a few of my intrepid friends in the Jacket Backers will be), but I will be glued to the tube for the latest installment of Jackets vs. the Eastern Conference.
Both clubs come into this match with records of 27-23-5, 59 points, and both sit 9th in their respective conference standings, knocking on the proverbial playoff door. However, unlike the CBJ, who stand in a virtual tie for 7th, and are only 2 points from 5th, the Hurricanes sit 5 points out of the 8th slot in an Eastern Conference where the upper echelon has feasted on the likes of Toronto, Ottawa, Atlanta and Tampa Bay all year. That inflates the point totals and makes the playoff race in the East a different animal than the West, where the tightly densed pack of teams cannibalizing each other makes the race a toss up, and actually reduces point totals.
The clubs rank closely in Goals Scored (CBJ are 21st, Carolina 22nd), but the CBJ have been far stingier in goals allowed, ranking 9th in the league, compared to the Hurricanes’ 18th. Neither team lights it up on the Power Play, with Carolina ranking 23rd @ 16.6%. While the Jackets are last, they have been over 16% since December. Jackets are 17th on the PK, while Carolina sits 22nd. Like Detroit, Carolina loves to put rubber on the net, ranking 5th in shots. In contrast, the Jackets rank 5th in fewest shots allowed.
Carolina has been relying on some of their veteran talent to lead the way in scoring. Former Jacket Ray Whitney leads the way with 17-27-44, while 38 year old Rob Brind ‘Amour has 8 – 21 – 29 in duty that has been limited by injury. Eric Staal has 39 points for Carolina, and 10 power play goals. Sergei Samsonov has 16-16-32, and has 4 points in the last 2 games. Plus/Minus rating is a different animal for Carolina — Whitney is -13 for the season, and Brind ‘Amour is a horrific -30! There are some 5 vs. 5 opportunities there.
Cam Ward has had the bulk of the work in goal for the Canes, with a 21-17-3 record, 2.6 GAA and .910 save percentage. Over the past 3, however, he is 1 – 2 with a 4.04 GAA and .855 save percentage. Carolina is coming off a 5-0 bushwhacking at the hands of the Florida Panthers, but is 6-4 over the last 10, including a 7 – 2 thumping of Phoenix on the road, and a rare 4 – 3 SO win at San Jose.
Though not laden with top to bottom talent like Detroit, Carolina likes to approach the game in a similar way. They have aggressive defensemen and experienced forwards who can keep the puck in play and will shoot from anywhere. Their goaltending can range from spotty to superior, but will show leakage when put under pressure.
Recipe is the same as last night:
–Stifling Defense — Challenge the neutral zone, strong forecheck, support our goaltender.
–Puck Presence — Although better, we still were too shaky on the puck in our own zone, and the second Detroit goal was directly tied to a turnover. Be strong on the puck, get good clears and transition passes, and get the puck deep.
–Shooting Gallery — Shoot hard, shoot often, keep the sticks on the ice, and be ready to tip it.
–Legs and Jump – Road game, back half of a back-to-back, so we need to come out of the box strong and take the crowd out of the game. Keep our legs moving, and stay 1 step ahead for 60 minutes.
We are 8 – 4 vs the East this year, so need to keep that Mojo going. Both teams fighting for the playoffs, so we need to show that we want it more. We are playing well, but do not have the home crowd to provide jump for us tonight. Let’s take charge on our own and show the ability to dominate a game for 3 periods.