Penguins, Hurricanes look for momentum after struggling
RALEIGH, N.C. — Tied in points with the Pittsburgh Penguins might often sound like a good deal for the Carolina Hurricanes.
But the Penguins have been scuffling for stretches this season, so Friday night’s Metropolitan Division matchup at PNC Arena will at least give one of the teams a boost.
Both teams have 41 points, though the Hurricanes have played two fewer games and so they sit one spot ahead of the seventh-place Penguins in the Metropolitan Division.
“They’re a desperate team just like we all are,” Hurricanes center Jordan Staal said, referring to his former team. “It will be another big divisional game for us. Divisional wins are big and this will be a big test for us.”
Both teams won Wednesday night when their post-holiday schedules resumed.
“We’ve got to go out there and follow it up and have some consistency,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said.
For the Penguins, it was a comeback victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a result that Pittsburgh is determined to build off.
The Penguins have won only three of their last eight games. They haven’t won consecutive games since the first two days of this month.
“We haven’t played our best hockey and we all know it,” said right winger Patric Hornqvist. “This is something to build on.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan saw glimpses of the style that he’s counting on from his team.
“It has to continue to stay this way if we’re going to get to where we want to go,” Sullivan said. “It’s important that we fight through those challenges together, that we lift each other up.”
The biggest boost for the Hurricanes during their successful run has been production on the power play. They have four power-play goals in a three-game span following a five-game stretch without any power-play goals.
“It has found ways to help us and that’s what we want,” Carolina right winger Sebastian Aho said of the power play.
Pittsburgh will arrive with the NHL’s second-best power play, converting on 25.2 percent of its chances.
The Penguins were hit with injuries to right winger Bryan Rust, defenseman Chad Ruhwedel and goaltender Matt Murray, who were all hurt in Wednesday’s win.
On Thursday, Sullivan listed Rust out for a long-term stretch with an upper-body injury, while Ruhwedel will be out week-to-week with an upper-body injury. Defenseman Kris Letang was already out with an injury.
Rust, Letang and Ruhwedel were placed on injured reserve on Thursday.
Sullivan also ruled out Murray for Friday, saying he’s day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
In response, Pittsburgh recalled goalie Casey DeSmith, defenseman Andrey Pedan and forward Garrett Wilson from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League
The Hurricanes have their second three-game winning streak of the month. They’ve yet to win four in a row this season.
“We’ve continued to work hard,” Staal said.
The beginning of the game could be telling based on recent trends for both teams. The Hurricanes have had a few hot starts, translating that to a 15-3-2 record when posting the first goal.
The Penguins frequently have been slow out of the gates. They’re 4-13-1 when the opponent notches the first goal.
By rallying to defeat Columbus, it was a reminder for the Penguins that they can overcome such stretches.
“It’s a matter of making sure we stay in the moment and we stay determined,” Sullivan said.
This is the first of four meetings between Pittsburgh and Carolina this season, with the first three meetings coming within a four-week span. The Penguins went 4-0-0 last season against the Hurricanes.
Friday night’s game begins a three-game road trip for the Penguins, who’ll be at home only once (Jan. 4 vs. Carolina) during a five-game stretch.