RALEIGH, N.C. — The Pittsburgh Penguins have won seven games in a row, which makes them the hottest team in the NHL.
They are, however, only nominally ahead of Carolina in that regard, because the Hurricanes are 8-0-1 in their past nine games in the wake of a 5-4 overtime victory against Dallas Saturday night at PNC Arena. That stretch includes an overtime loss at Anaheim, sandwiched by a pair of four-game winning streaks.
Beating the Stars allowed the Hurricanes to break a tie with the Penguins and claim sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Hurricanes’ offense has been surprisingly ordinary through the first 30 games, averaging just 2.9 goals per game, but their team defense is excellent. Carolina is allowing an average of 2.63 goals per game, fifth-lowest figure in the league.
“They’re one of the hardest teams, man-on-man, in all three zones, in the league,” Mike Sullivan said. “They play a suffocating defense in all three zones. They make you work for the ice out there. Because of that, they’re a team that’s difficult to play against.
“They have real mobile defensemen. They have good size on defense, with long reaches. I think Jordan Staal is probably one of the better defensive centermen in the league, so he’s going to make it hard on us, as well. They’re a good hockey team. They’re well-balanced. They’ve got skill up front, but they have a real mobile defense corps that I think is one of the more underrated aspects of their team.”
The new cornerstone of that defense is veteran Brent Burns, acquired from San Jose in July. He is averaging a team-high 23 minutes, 44 seconds of ice time and needs one point for 800 in the NHL.
History suggests there’s a fairly good chance he will get it this evening, since he has 18 points in 23 career games against the Penguins.
This will be just the Penguins’ fifth game inside the Metropolitan Division this season — they are 3-0-1 in the previous four — but is the start of a stretch during which they will play five of six against Metro opponents. They will face the Hurricanes twice, and have single meetings with the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey.
“Those games are big games, and they’re against very good teams,” Bryan Rust said. “We have to try to make the most of them.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who are 14-2-2 in their past 18 games, will not conduct a game-day skate, and are expected to announce their starting goaltender a couple of hours before the game.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
Expected Carolina Hurricanes Lines, per Puckpedia.com
Penguins Power Play: 22 of 101, 21.8%, 18th
Penguins Penalty Kill: 16 of 94, 83%, 4th
Hurricanes Power Play: 19 of 101, 18.8%, 26th
Hurricanes Penalty Kill: 21 of 102, 79.4%, 15th
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
How to Watch
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: 105.9 The X