Right now the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves in the middle of a rebuild minus enough help from the system. Right or wrong, many blame former GM Jim Rutherford for the current state of the team and the 6-year playoff drought in Raleigh.
Almost immediately after leaving Raleigh, Rutherford was hired to help pull together the final pieces around a strong base of Crosby, Malkin and Letang to get the Pittsburgh Penguins back to the Stanley Cup Finals. In his first try for the 2014-15 season, the Pens squeaked into the playoffs with the #8 seed and were quickly sent packing the first round by the New York Rangers in 5 games. Nearing the halfway point of the 2015-16 season, things are actually going worse right now. The Pens sit out of the playoffs today, and Jim Rutherford has already fired the head coach. There is a debate to be had about how much blame goes to Rutherford and how much goes to what he inherited, but just like in Raleigh, right or wrong there is significant grumbling about Jim Rutherford in Pittsburgh.
So appropriately timed just before Christmas, Saturday’s game between the Hurricanes and Penguins sets up as a Charles Dickens’ battle of Jim Rutherford present (Pens) and Jim Rutherford past (Canes).
Past the Jim Rutherford drama, here is what I will be watching Saturday night:
1) A rebound to scoring ways
After a run of solid offensive production even in losses, the Hurricanes were stymied, slowed and shut out in Friday’s 2-0 loss to Florida. I think it is actually fair to chalk part of this up to the Panthers and their style of play being a tough match up for the Canes, but it also raises the question of whether the run of scoring is coming to an end. Here is hoping the Canes bounce back and get back to scoring in bunches.
2) Challenges for the young D
Despite the Pens’ struggles, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are still Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and on the road in Pittsburgh the Pens will be able to dictate match ups a bit. It will be fun to watch Hanifin/Slavin take some shifts against these elite NHL players and see if they can hold their own.
3) Jeff Skinner
He did not score on Friday obviously, but even in a tight game, he was buzzing around with the look of a goal scorer. He is still the player to watch on the offensive side of the puck right now for the Canes.
The puck drops at about 7pm on Fox Sports with John, Tripp and Michelle.