Too early for big game. Or is it?

Posted by Chip Alexander on October 28, 2013 

It's still October. Is it too early for a big game?

For the Canes and Pittsburgh Penguins, the game Monday has a little of that feel to it. Both have losing streaks -- the Canes have lost two and the Pens three. The Metropolitan Division race is tightening and now has a new dynamic to it after the New York Islanders' trade with the Buffalo Sabres for Thomas Vanek.

"We've said all along we're in a new division with new rivalries and all that and they're all four-point games," Canes coach Kirk Muller said. "We're both coming off losses and are two teams not happy about it. I expect a pretty good, intense game. If we win we're right on the heels of chasing everybody up top (in the East)."

The Pens (7-4-0) have scored 13 goals in the past two games against the Canes (4-4-3), winning 8-3 in the regular-season finale last year and then 5-2 when the teams faced off Oct. 8 in Pittsburgh.

"They've got some firepower over there, as we all know," Muller said. "In those two games we've given them too many easy plays around the net, gave them more time than we want to to execute and make those plays. We've got to tighten it up and just play the game the right way.

"We have to get our competitive level high tonight and have our 'A' game against a good hockey team."

Former Canes forward Jussi Jokinen had five of the Pens' 13 goals against Carolina -- two in the first game, then a hat trick in the second. More or less given to the Pens last season -- Jokinen was traded for a draft pick -- he has been at his offensive best against the Canes.

"Obviously playing against your former team you always have a little bit extra," Jokinen said Monday. "It's two of the top teams in our division. It's a big game for both teams and both teams are hungry to win."

Justin Peters was in net for Carolina in the 8-3 game and will be the Canes starter again Monday. It’s a different year and different circumstances but the same opponent.

"We went in with a pretty depleted lineup in the last game of the year," Muller said. "We're a whole different group. We're fresh. It's a big game for this time of the year.

"This is a great opportunity for him. He's got the ball. It's his chance."

Muller made a couple of line tweaks from Sunday's practice. Patrick Dwyer will play the right wing on Jordan Staal's line and Elias Lindholm will be on the right side of Riley Nash's line.

Defenseman Mike Komisarek will be the healthy scratch as Tim Gleason is paired with Ron Hainsey and Jay Harrison is back in the lineup and paired with Ryan Murphy.

The Canes' Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner both have MRIs on Sunday. Muller said Skinner, who skated Monday before the team skate, might be able to play Friday against Tampa Bay. The prognosis on Ward remains the same: the goalie is out two to four weeks.

Muller said injured defenseman Brett Bellemore was not able to skate Monday and his status is "day to day."

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