Los Angeles Kings
Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
The Carolina Hurricanes close out their season-long eight game homestand on Tuesday night with the only visit to Raleigh by the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings themselves are in the midst of their season-long seven game road trip that started with a 1-1 split in the Sunshine State. At 4-2-1 on the homestand heading into tomorrow’s tilt, a Canes win would go a long way in having the homestand viewed as an overall success instead of a potentially missed opportunity.
The Kings will be a bit shorthanded on Tuesday as Dustin Brown was suspended for a kneeing incident in Tampa on Saturday night. Combine that with the continued absence of Jeff Carter, who has missed most of the season with an ankle injury, and the Kings will be digging just a bit deeper into their forward depth.
While the coaching name may have changed (John Stevens is now the bench boss in LA, replacing Darryl Sutter), the formula has not changed. Middle of the pack goal-scoring coupled with elite goal prevention continues to be the path the Kings travel down. Having only allowed 133 goals in 55 games, they certainly have suppressed opposing offenses, sitting at second overall in the NHL goals against. Only placing 19th in the league in goals for, however, has the Kings jockeying for a playoff position in the highly competitive Pacific Division.
Jonathan Quick is certainly an important part of the Kings defensive success, as the netminder has posted another stellar season with a .921 save percentage in 41 starts. On the offensive end, the Kings are led by their captain, Anze Kopitar, who has produced a prodigious 59 points in 55 games. His running mate is the dynamic defenseman Drew Doughty, who has added 39 points from the blueline. There are other dangerous players such as Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, along with Jake Muzzin also adding some punch from the blueline, but beyond that, the scoring depth just has not been sustained in a manner that makes the Kings a consistent offensive threat. Missing Brown (and his 38 points) on Tuesday could make that even more apparent.
The Kings are a team similar to the San Jose Sharks in many ways in terms of the style of game and types of players they have assembled. For the Hurricanes to have more success against LA than they did against the Sharks, they must obviously put out a better effort than they did just over a week ago against the Sharks, but they also must use their superior speed instead of letting the rougher, tougher opponent get them into a slower, more physical style of game. If the Canes can do that, they should have an opportunity to pick up points against a quality team.
What to Watch For
- The Kings possess the second-best penalty kill in the league at 84.6%. If the Canes get opportunities, they are going to have to be very decisive and precise to take advantage of the extra man.
- Expect a defensive battle, and scoring opportunities could be in limited supply. Each team is in the top eight in the NHL in terms of suppressing shots. When the Canes get their chances, they must capitalize.
New Jersey Devils
Thursday, 7:00 p.m. at Prudential Center
Sunday, 5:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
For the first time since January 25th in Montreal, the Canes will hit the road Thursday, and this time will square off with the Metropolitan Division rival New Jersey Devils for the first time this season. With the Devils just one point ahead of the Canes for a playoff spot, and three more matchups before season’s end, these games against playoff competitors will only continue to get bigger.
The Devils have been one of the bigger surprises in the Eastern Conference, as the mix of young and old was able to jump out to an early fast start before coming back towards the Metro Division pack in the last six weeks with a trio of losing streaks of four games or longer. Currently, the Devils are in the throes of a four-game skid, with a date against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.
One of the bigger recent developments has been the loss of franchise goalie Cory Schneider to a groin injury. Recently, it was announced that Schneider is likely to miss yet another week, this week. As part of this loss, the Devils have rolled with backup Keith Kinkaid as the starter, with the newly acquired former-Cane Eddie Lack serving as his backup. The loss of the dynamic Schneider is obviously massive for the Devils, and in such a tight race, one bad week or two can put a significant dent in your playoff hopes.
While missing Schneider is front and center, the injuries extend beyond the crease. Marcus Johansson is also in the midst of missing significant time with concussion symptoms. These losses have heaped even more pressure and responsibility on Taylor Hall to lead this team to a place that he himself has never been before, the playoffs. Hall has certainly done his part thus far, as his 21 goals and 56 points both lead the team.
Behind Hall, 2017 first overall draft pick Nico Hischier has chipped in with 32 points in his first NHL season at age 19. It has basically been an all hands on deck approach to scoring, as the Devils have 20 total players with double-digit point totals. Depth has been their secret ingredient, and that depth is certainly being tested with their recent injuries.
If Carolina is to get the critical two points against New Jersey, putting the pressure on the Devils to have to come back and produce offense from a deficit would be huge. Getting off to a quick start and getting pucks to the net while you can against any goalie not named Schneider would seem to serve as a quality strategy.
What to Watch For
- Hischier is also serving as the center on the top line in New Jersey, alongside Hall. That pair will be something to watch, as their line is certainly the most dynamic for the Devils.
- Thursday is the first of four games against the Devils, but it is also the first of three games within about two and a half weeks. Setting the tone in these critical games against a playoff contender is very important.
New York Islanders
Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena
The Hurricanes will conclude their week with the back end of a back-to-back against Metro Division playoff contending rivals as they take on the New York Islanders. As many of you may know, the Islanders-Hurricanes series has been absolutely bonkers in recent history, as scoreboard exploding totals have become common place. This season has seen each team win in a 1-1 split, with a total of 16 goals in the two games.
While these types of wild and high-scoring games have been aberrations for the Canes, they have become absolutely standard for the Isles. The Islanders are currently dead-last in the NHL in goals against, having allowed a robust 210 goals in 57 games. They are also second overall in goals for, lighting the lamp 193 times. The bottom line is, no lead - or deficit - is safe against the Isles.
A team that’s second in the NHL in scoring will have plenty of credit to go around. That credit starts with the captain, John Tavares, who leads the Isles with 62 points in 57 games, a better than a point per game average. There are two other Isles also averaging more than a point per game, as Josh Bailey (62 points) and Calder Trophy front-runner Mathew Barzal (59 points) also are above that threshold. The offensive superlatives don’t end there, as this group doesn’t even include the Isles’ leading goal-scorer. Anders Lee leads the team with 29 goals, but has only managed 45 points, having to settle for fourth highest on the team. If you are going to touch on all of the offensive contributors, you might just end up going through the entire roster for the the Islanders, but it is safe to say that Doug Weight is getting almost all he can offensively from his roster.
Defensively, however, the Islanders have been a train wreck. The Islanders are dead last in Shots Against having yielded an incredible 2025 shots in 57 games. That is more than 100 shots than the 30th ranked team (Maple Leafs)! In comparison to the Hurricanes, who have given up the second fewest, the Islanders have allowed 393 more shots on goal than Carolina. Pretty amazing to consider.
Winning these important head to head matchups against the teams the Canes are competing for a playoff spot with is obviously highly important. The Canes let one slip away against the Flyers last week, but this week presents two more opportunities, and there are certainly plenty more remaining as the fight for the postseason continues to heat up in the Eastern Conference.
What to Watch For
- A back to back featuring two crucial games presents an interesting challenge in net for Bill Peters. Does he start Scott Darling on the road against the Devils, who are a lesser offensive team, or does he get the nod at home against the high-octane Islanders in the back end? We shall see.
- As mentioned, the Hurricanes are on a back-to-back, but the Islanders will also be playing on a back-to-back, having a matchup with the New York Rangers on Thursday. There should be no skating advantage for the crucial Friday night tilt.