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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Predators

Thanksgiving Week sees the Canes hosting a trio of games.

NHL: New York Rangers at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

New York Rangers

Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: New York Rangers at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes will begin their week of home games during Thanksgiving by welcoming a Metropolitan Division foe, the New York Rangers.

Following a particularly poor 1-5-2 start, the Rangers were able to right the ship a bit with a much needed six-game winning streak which was snapped last Wednesday in Chicago. Now coming off a victory against the Senators on Sunday, the Rangers head to Raleigh at 10-9-2 on the season.

With some of the hot seat pressure potentially relieved from head coach Alain Vigneault, the Rangers are trying to keep pace in the highly competitive Metro Division which currently has a separation of just five points from first place to last place. Offensively, the load has been shared by Mika Zibanejad and crown jewel of the Ranger offseason Kevin Shattenkirk leading the way with 20 and 17 points respectively.

Ultimately, the Hurricanes’ success against the Rangers will depend on their ability to get pucks past Henrik Lundqvist. The King has not gotten off to the best of starts this season, but his sparkling all-time numbers against Carolina, which include a 25-11-1 record and a sterling 2.11 GAA, suggest that he continues to be a tough riddle for the Canes to solve. His .911 save percentage thus far does not suggest it is vintage Lundqvist this season, but his role on this team continues to be prominent, and his most recent performance on Sunday was his second shutout of the season, suggesting that while his overall numbers may be slightly diminished, he is still very capable.

The Hurricanes will win this game if they continue to exhibit their somewhat inconsistent commitment to getting to the front of the net and sticking there. If they stick mostly to the outside and to the easier part to gain on the ice, they may find it tough sledding on the offensive end.

What to Watch For

  • Both Scott Darling and Cam Ward are coming off of spectacular performances. With a 3-game homestand, it would seem likely that the play might be divvied up in some fashion. The question is, who would Ward get his one start against? The smart money is likely on Sunday versus Nashville, but keep an eye on that this week.
  • Haydn Fleury missed Sunday’s game as a healthy scratch , but was hobbling following a blocked shot in Buffalo. WIll he return in time for the Rangers game or will Klas Dahlbeck keep his spot in the lineup?

Toronto Maple Leafs

Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs arrive the day after Thanksgiving, and while they still have two games ahead before Friday’s tilt, they are currently riding high on a six-game winning streak coming into what will be a busy week that include four games in six days. While the Maple Leafs have been spectacular in the first quarter of the season with a 14-7-0 record (because with that much offensive talent, who wants to play these guys three-on-three in OT?), the most recent contest with Carolina was a sour one for the boys from Ontario, as the Canes downed the Leafs 6-3 in Toronto on October 26th.

The Leafs have been, thus far, almost exactly the type of team many expected them to be. High-flying and high-scoring, Toronto is second in the league in goals scored, while lagging in the middle to bottom part of the league in goals against at 21st. Matthews leads the way in goals and points overall for the team as he has netted 12 goals to go along with nine assists.

While the goaltending from Frederik Andersen and Curtis McElhinney has been solid if unspectacular with a combined .913 save percentage, the issue has come from the Leafs again yielding too many shots. The Leafs have allowed 704 shots in their 21 games, good for third most in the NHL. With an offensive core that can paper over those issues the Leafs have not seen this issue become a major issue yet, in order to become the championship contender their fans want and envision, they must be able to suppress shots at a better clip if they wish to bring the first Stanley Cup to Toronto since 1967.

While expectations may be sky high for this team, the matchup with Carolina is particularly intriguing, with two young teams in the process of attempting to build a contender that have gone about the process in dramatically different ways. While the Leafs have certainly broken through earlier (evidenced by their playoff appearance last season), the Canes and Leafs appear poised to battle in the Eastern Conference for years to come.

What to Watch For

  • Friday will mark the return of veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey to Raleigh. Hainsey spent almost four full seasons in Carolina before being traded to Pittsburgh last season at the trade deadline.
  • Auston Matthews and his line versus Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Worth the price of admission.

Nashville Predators

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The Hurricanes will wrap the week with a Sunday matinee against the defending Western Conference champion Nashville Predators. Off to the kind of start you would expect from a team who played in the Stanley Cup Final this past spring, the Preds have asserted themselves as a threat to defend their crown out west. Filip Forsberg has taken charge of leading the Nashville attack, as the 23-year-old has tallied 20 points to pace the Preds. The balanced offense approach, combined with elite defensive talent has continued to be a formula for success, as the Preds have eight different players with 10 or more points already.

In net, Pekka Rinne has continued his wonderful career in the Music City. His .922 save percentage in 15 starts has shown that the 35-year-old is not ready to relinquish his role as the main guy between the pipes anytime soon. On defense, the Preds are currently without Ryan Ellis (he should return from knee surgery in January) and Yannick Weber. The core strength of a team that went from wildcard entrant to conference champion hasn’t been as affected by the losses as many might have expected.

The path of success blazed by the Predators and by head coach Peter Laviolette (I heard he coached in Raleigh once, anything come of it?) would seem to be the path that the Hurricanes must follow if they wish to become a contending club, with balanced scoring, suffocating defense, and timely goaltending, The tools are there for each club. Sunday’s game will come down to whichever side arrives on time for the 1:00 p.m. start and uses those tools the best.

What to Watch For

  • With his move to Nashville, Sunday marks the only opportunity to see P.K. Subban showcase his exciting brand of play in Raleigh.
  • As mentioned previously, the early start is uncommon in the NHL, so arriving ready to play in the first period could go a long way toward determining who takes control Sunday. Energy will be at the top of each coach’s list of must-haves for sure.