Twenty-four hours after a 5-1 loss to the Penguins, the Sharks will take to the ice in Raleigh, North Carolina for the first time since early 2012 for a matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina ranks fourth in the dreadful Metropolitan Division but have won four of their last six and are coming off a 5-2 victory in Nashville last night that Hurricanes writer Corey Sznajder described as what "may have been the best game Carolina has played all season."
The Hurricanes were probably a better team than their record indicated in the shortened 2012-13 season but a potentially career-ending injury to Joni Pitkanen combined with former U.S. Olympian Tim Gleason's game falling off the face of the planet has decimated their back end. Only the Oilers, Blue Jackets, Maple Leafs and Sabres have earned a smaller proportion of even-strength shot attempts in score-close situations this season than Carolina and the Hurricanes are fifth-worst in overall offense as well. After forming one of the most lethal top lines in the NHL a season ago, Jiri Tlusty, Eric Staal and Alexander Semin have been unable to recreate that magic so far in this campaign. Tlusty was predictably unable to sustain his 19.7% shooting percentage, Staal is on pace for his lowest goal total of the past decade and the uber-talented Semin is currently out with a concussion.
Fortunately for Carolina, former Logan Couture Calder Trophy nemesis Jeff Skinner has been excellent since returning from an injury of his own and scored a hat trick last night in Music City. Fellow youngster Justin Faulk logs some of the toughest minutes on a very different-looking Hurricanes blueline than years prior. Along with the Sharks' Justin Braun, Faulk is very much a dark horse candidate to represent Team USA in Sochi and would fit nicely on a shutdown pairing with Ryan Suter. He, along with tough-minutes center extraordinaire Jordan Staal, will likely be tasked with attempting to neutralize the Tom, Dick & Hairy line while old friend Manny Malhotra, thankfully back in the NHL after a gruesome eye injury put his career on hiatus, should take plenty of draws in his natural habitat, the left defensive zone faceoff circle. Ultimately, the Hurricanes aren't very good and are without their best winger in Semin so, despite it coming on the second half of a back-to-back, this is one of those games the Sharks need to win to gain some separation from the rest of a tightly-contested Pacific Division.
|19-4-5, 43 points
||12-12-5, 29 points|
|1st in Pacific
||4th in Metropolitan