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NHL: Carolina Hurricanes @ Pittsburgh Penguins Preview

The Metropolitan Division race heats up on Friday as the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins meet for the second time in a week, this time at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena.

In Carolina on Monday, the Hurricanes (20-6-6) won 3-2 to extend their point streak to 11 games and hand the Penguins (19-9-4) their first defeat in eight games.

It was the second time this season that Carolina have beat Pittsburgh 3-2 and it helped them move to the top of the division.

The Penguins, 15/4 To Win Division, are currently third and one point ahead of the New York Rangers, two behind the New Jersey Devils and four off the Hurricanes in first place.

Kochetkov steps up

With regular number-one Frederik Andersen still recovering from an upper-body injury sustained in early November, rookie Pyotr Kochetkov has stepped up in his absence to win his past eight starts.

The 23-year-old made 23 saves to record the win against Pittsburgh on Monday which took his season record to 10-1-4 with a .928 save percentage and 1.94 goals against average (GAA).

His form means that when 33-year-old Andersen returns soon, Antti Raanta in his second season with the Hurricanes is likely to be the odd man out.

Andersen was 5-3-0 with a .891 save percentage and 2.72 GAA prior to his injury while Raanta is 5-2-2 with a .891 save percentage and 2.75 GAA.

It’s unclear when Andersen will make his return, but the Hurricanes certainly don’t need to rush him back with Kochetkov showcasing his fine talent on such a regular basis.

Penguins soaring

The Penguins had an inconsistent beginning to the NHL season but have closed the gap between themselves and those at the top of the Metropolitan Division in recent weeks.

Key to their success has been the form of several key players including Captain Sidney Crosby, veteran Evgeni Malkin and goalie Tristan Jarry, plus a red hot powerplay.

Crosby, 35 years old, leads the team with 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists), 33 of which (16 goals, 17 assists) have come at even strength which is best of all players in the NHL.

Malkin, 36, is on a nine-game point-streak (three goals, 10 assists) and overall is second behind his Captain with 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists).

Jarry, 27, is 11-0-1 in his past 12 starts, taking his season record to 14-3-3 with a .921 save percentage and 2.63 GAA.

Pittsburgh have at least one powerplay goal in nine straight games which is their longest streak since 12 games in February 2013.

Overall, their success rate on the man advantage is at 22.9% (16th) and their penalty-kill an excellent 84% (third).

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Next man up for Hurricanes

The Hurricanes' six straight wins have come without star player Sebastian Aho who is out with a lower-body injury which is no small feat for a team that historically has lacked depth scoring.

Since Aho went down on 6th December, Carolina have had ten different goal scorers, with seven of those players being multi-goal scorers.

A regular 30 goal-producer Max Pacioretty was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights in the off-season to assist, but the 34-year-old was injured before even making his debut and, while expected to be available shortly, he currently continues to be a big absence.

Carolina have scored a relatively low 2.94 goals per-game (24th n the NHL) but generally their goals have been timely, and due to excellent goaltending and a tight defence, have conceded just 2.56 goals per-game (fifth) and found themselves on the right side of small margin scorelines far more often than not.

Martin Necas leads the Hurricanes with 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) and Andrei Svechnikov has the most goals with 17 (plus 12 assists) in 32 games.

Aho is third with 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 26 games which included 10 (four goals, six assists) in his last 10 games before being hurt. The 25-year-old led the Hurricanes with 81 points (37 goals, 44 assists) in 79 games last season.

Third time lucky

As outlined above, one way or another the Hurricanes keep finding ways to win and the two one-goal defeats this season will have frustrated the Penguins.

They will be desperate to make it third time lucky before the inability to get the better of a short-staffed Carolina team begins to become a mental barrier in their pursuit of a fourth Stanley Cup in the Crosby and Malkin era.

The Penguins are 17/2 To Win the Eastern Conference and 16/1 to be crowned Stanley Cup champions for a sixth time in history.

The Hurricanes are 6/1 to be the Eastern Conference winners and 10/1 to lift the Stanley Cup for what would be their second time.

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