The Hurricanes have been a team far from relevancy for the most part of the decade. That was until last year when their analytical approach to the game lead by Eric Tulsky finally broke through and sent them to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Rangers, on the other hand, were just coming off the reign of King Henrik Lundqvist and officially announced the rebuild. The signing of superstar Artemi Panarin in the Big Apple accelerated this and now they’re back on the verge of the Playoffs after two years out. Both teams are going to want to make it, the Hurricanes to prove they weren’t one and done, and the Rangers to take the next step in what would be one of the fastest rebuilds ever.
Coaching and Style
Rod Brind’Amour and David Quinn both have unique and quite contrasting coaching styles. Brind’Amour is much more focused on creating a tight system, using his deep and rounded roster in specific situations and choking the opponent by controlling tempo and space. David Quinn, on the other hand, deploys his team prioritizing his star players no matter what situation they find themselves in. He allows them to use their skill to slice through the opposition’s forecheck. This is a battle of two styles. The Hurricanes play a style more conducive to winning, especially if they get it right at playoff time when the details are brought out more. However, their problem is that the Rangers seem to have consistently broken that system down during the regular season.
Who will play in net this series is wide open. The Rangers never had a true starter troughout the season so the position is up for grabs and the Hurricanes have been getting better results from their backup, so who will start is also a mystery. However, these two teams both create and allow chances right around the net, so a good goalie could be a difference-maker.
Shesterkin only played 12 games for the Rangers, but posted great results. Starting him could be a smart move by Quinn but Georgiev was also solid over a much larger sample size. I would personally go with Shesterkin in net. Neither goalie has had a playoff run before but Shesterkin’s numbers in the NHL are not a complete surprise. He has been great in the KHL winning a championship and the Olympic Gold medal in his young career. Getting good goaltending could be important for the Rangers as the Hurricanes are well-positioned to break them down and create consistent pressure.
For the Hurricanes, Mrazek has played most of the games but has also been a key reason as to why Brind’Amour’s dominant system hasn’t gotten the results. Over this season Reimer has given the Hurricanes a much more solid base, which is all they need to take the series over and establish their dominance. I think Reimer should be the choice, but we’ll see what Brind’Amour comes up with.
This is where the Hurricanes have a clear advantage. Their defensive group is very well-rounded and the Slavin – Hamilton top pairing can dominate play. Given the Rangers style of play however, defending the rush will be key. Thankfully this is something that Slavin specializes in and does at the best rate in the league.
However, while the Hurricanes do have a very deep defensive group, defending the rush throughout will be important because both coaches may try to find an edge by keeping Panarin and the Hurricanes top pairing away from each other. This is where Pesce’s role as a well-rounded defender and Fleury as one of the few Hurricanes to cover in front of the net come into play. One big problem though, Pesce is out with a shoulder injury so the Hurricane’s depth, who can typically contribute to the control of play and the attack will be put into the uncomfortable position of taking on Panarin and Zibanejad 1v1. Gardiner could fill in this role nicely, but it will be a big task for a player who notoriously chokes under pressure.
The Rangers have a defensive group that is much more confortable in the offensive zone. They also don’t work as well in tandem and within the structure of team defence as each pairing is driven by one man: Trouba, Fox or DeAngelo. This puts a lot of pressure for Trouba to defend the Hurricanes swarm alone in his own end and for Fox to take control of the back end as a rookie. Fox plays an extremely complete game and if he can use his skills to prevent the Hurricanes from entering the zone and establish offensive zone presence, the Rangers will be in excellent shape. DeAngelo also excels going forwards so the Rangers will benefit lots from attempting to get established zone time. Despite this, defensive coverage remains a weakness for the Rangers that could be detrimental to their chances.
In the end, the Hurricanes will have the edge while controlling play from the back but the Rangers do have options on each pairing to make a difference.
The Hurricanes once again have a tight forward unit. They will focus on playing a heavy forecheck game and winning space in the offensive zone. This is helped by Williams, Martinook, Staal, Teravainen and Svechnikov all playing very well off dumps in. The one downside is they don’t have any good options that can split the weak defensive Rangers. This means that while their style is good all-round, it requires more work to create a strong offence than it should against a team like New York. Overall, their roster is primed to play in front of the net and get shots off while Aho brings a level of high-end creativity within the rigid system. It will be key for them to get into the zone and work the Rangers sometimes seemingly lost defence to death.
The Rangers are far more straight forward upfront. Panarin will dominate. He’s a player that can single-handedly break a system like the one the Hurricanes play. Especially as the Hurricanes play man on man coverage, speedsters like Panarin, Zibanejad and Kreider are going to be looking to escape into the rush and walk in on goal. It’s very direct but it can change the game in an instance. If the Hurricanes break down too many times, they will fully be left with their inconsistent goaltending to survive. Consistent offensive pressure isn’t the Rangers game as they don’t forecheck hard but it can be deadly when they do attack, especially if they get some contribution from their back end. The top-end guys showing up will likely be key for New York, as their young bottom-six highlighted by Kappo Kakko is far from NHL ready.
Key Factors and Final Thoughts
This series could go either way. The Hurricanes will likely pick the terms as their complete roster is built for controlling play. They should have the edge in this series; however, if Panarin gets hot he could completely dismantle everything the Hurricanes built and leave the goalies facing him and sharpshooting Zibanejad. That isn’t a bet the Hurricanes would like to take so every detail and bounce will matter for them in order to put this series away and qualify for the playoffs.