Inconsistent Canadiens ready to face Hurricanes

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Carolina Hurricanes are healthy and they’re at home.

This is the combination that they’re counting on carrying them through the month of February.

“It’s a big moment in the season,” center Jeff Skinner said. “Everyone is aware of where we are in the standings, where we are in the season. We have an opportunity at home to pick up some points.”

Next on the list comes a visit Thursday night from the Montreal Canadiens.

The Hurricanes are hoping things are finally falling into place.

Carolina began an eight-game homestand with Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory against the Ottawa Senators. That was the only victory for the Hurricanes in five January home games.

“That’s as healthy as we’ve been all year,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. “We had everybody at our disposal.”

Peters said with games on back-to-back days (Thursday and Friday) he’ll see what works best in terms of goaltending for the Montreal game. He said he liked Cam Ward’s sharpness and communication level coming out of the All-Star break in Tuesday’s victory.

The Canadiens, who practiced Wednesday in Raleigh, aren’t feeling quite as encouraged. They lost 3-1 on Tuesday night at St. Louis.

“We didn’t generate much offensively,” Montreal coach Claude Julien said. “It’s the same old story. We have to find ways to get on the inside. … It’s important for us to find ways to score some goals. We need results.”

The Canadiens have been rather perplexed with their fluctuating performances.

Even when we play pretty decent, it seems like it’s just not enough,” captain Max Pacioretty said. “We have to figure out how and why that’s happening and find ways to win.”

For Montreal, this is the second road game among a stretch of seven road assignments in a 10-game span. But the Canadiens might be out of the road routine having played only three times away from home in January, with a 1-2-0 record in those games.

The Canadiens aren’t certain about the status of left winger Paul Byron for the Carolina game. He took a hard hit along the boards at St. Louis.

“It’s nothing major,” Julien said. “We’re going to make a decision on him (on game day).”

The Hurricanes benefited from the return of Sebastian Aho to the lineup this week. He scored in his first game after sitting out four games with various ailments.

“That’s the type of player he is,” Skinner said of Aho. “We’re looking for that spark.”

Aho is second on the Carolina team with 38 points, though his 17 goals lead the team.

The Hurricanes and Canadiens played in a wild game on the eve of the All-Star break, with Carolina winning 6-5 last week in Montreal. So they both had rather tame games in their first outings coming out of the break.

Carolina also won 3-1 against the Canadiens in late December. The Hurricanes are aiming for their second season series sweep of Montreal in franchise history, with the only time that happened taking place when they were the Hartford Whalers in 1994-95.