Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at TD Garden
The Boston Bruins exited the trade deadline after landing one of the top prizes available in acquiring Rick Nash from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 1st-round pick, 7th-round pick, Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, and Ryan Lindgren. They also added blueline depth earlier in the week from the Rangers in a trade that brought Nick Holden to Beantown, and signing US Olympian and NHL vet Brian Gionta as a free agent.
The acquisitions come at a time in which the Bruins have finally somewhat cooled off by losing two games in a row, following their torrid stretch that did not see them lose two consecutive games since December 16th. Before the season, the Bruins were seen as a team in transition in many ways, but now with a playoff spot all but secured in the top-3 of the Atlantic Division, the Bruins are setting their sights on a run in the playoffs.
That run has been powered by an exceptional seasons from veterans Brad Marchand (58 points) and Patrice Bergeron (54 points, but out indefinitely with a broken foot), but has also been propelled by the emergence of David Pastranak (55 points) who at 21 years old is looking to post a second consecutive 70-point season. Add in significant contributions from additional young blood in the B’s lineup such as Danton Heinen (22-years-old, 39 points), Jake Debrusk (21-years-old, 30 points), and Charlie McAvoy (20-years-old, 28 points from the blueline) and you can see that the Bruins have made the transition much faster than some other teams that have tried to incorporate young players into their lineup.
Behind it all has been steady, excellent play in net from former Vezina-winner Tuukka Rask (.921 save percentage, 2.21 goals against average) and from former Hurricane Anton Khudobin (.919 save percentage, 2.41 goals against average) who has provided ample rest for Rask by starting 21 games to date. Good goaltending, solid veteran performers, an influx of young talent, and an infusion of additional veteran scoring and depth at the trade deadline are recipes for success. The Bruins hope it leads to the ultimate success this spring.
What to Watch For
- The Bruins are still sorting out exactly how they will shuffle their lines with Nash in the lineup. Their first outing against the Buffalo Sabres didn’t go so well. Look for tinkering to continue on Tuesday.
- Bill Peters made it clear that Sebastian Aho is slotted for the center position for the immediate future. How will the young Finn adjust and what impact will it have on his offensive game? The Canes certainly need everything they can get from Aho.
Thursday, 7:00 p.m. at Wells Fargo Center
Yet another Eastern Conference playoff contender, the Philadelphia Flyers are next on the docket for the Canes in this week which is of the utmost desperation for their fading postseason chances. The Flyers are another team that saw fit to reinforce their roster by fixing a leak that had sprung due to injury in net, adding Petr Mrazek from the Detroit Red Wings. Mrazek provides the Flyers with a solid option in net for the rest of the season as they try to fight their way into the playoffs with two goalies (Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth) on the shelf. The Flyers also added some defensive depth by picking up veteran left-shot defenseman Johnny Oduya via waivers.
The well-balanced Flyers have continued to ascend in the Metro due to a blistering six-game winning streak that has motored them past the wildcard contenders and all the way into first place in the Metro. Captain Claude Giroux continues to pace the Flyers in points with 74, while Sean Couturier has provided his break out season at age 25 with a career high 29 goals through 63 games.
The only real concern for the skaters with the Flyers is the loss of the big body of Wayne Simmonds who is out for at least a few weeks with an upper-body injury. His physical presence is missed just as much as his skill (20 goals, 37 points) as he is a big part of their power play and their identity as a whole.
For the Hurricanes to compete with the Flyers, they must find a way to get the Flyers in their Penalty Kill which has been their only real bugaboo this season, as they currently rate just 28th in the NHL with a 75.28% Kill. For a team that can struggle mightily offensively, taking the help where they can get it is critical.
What to Watch For
- How does the Flyers power play operate without Simmonds? His net-front presence was such a big part. Do they rely more on umbrella-type shooting from the wings with Giroux and Couturier or Jakub Voracek?
- Who will be in goal for this crucial road battle, knowing that the next night features another critical game at home against the New Jersey Devils?
New Jersey Devils
Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena
The New Jersey Devils are yet another Metropolitan Division rival and playoff contender who has spent the last several days attempting to improve their team via the trade market. With the addition of Michael Grabner for a prospect and a second-round pick and the last minute deal for Patrick Maroon from the Edmonton Oilers for a third-rounder and a prospect, the Devils have tried to bolster their scoring, as well as their grip on the top wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Devils had dipped to the cut line in the wild card race, but a recent four-game winning streak elevated them back to relative safety for the time being, even with their most important player, goalie Cory Schneider, still sidelined with a groin injury until at least later this week. The next most important player, Taylor Hall, has continued his remarkable season that may put him into Hart Trophy contention when all is said and done. His 26 goals and 40 assists make him the leader in each category for the Devils, and his offense has elevated rookie Nico Hischier to an impressive place. Last year’s top overall pick has notched 41 points in 62 games and is on pace to finish his rookie season well above the 50 point plateau.
Beyond those two, the Devils have depth in scoring with young forwards such as Jesper Bratt, Will Butcher, and Miles Woods (all three players 23-years-old or under) sharing the secondary scoring burden. By adding Grabner and Maroon, the Devils hope to provide some more veteran savvy to their depth and create a potent four-line lineup.
Should Schneider return and regain his form with the playoffs in sight, the Devils could be a tough out for any team in the Eastern Conference to deal with. As with all of the other teams ahead of them, for the Canes to claw their way back into contention they must outplay a team that is simply better than them on paper currently. To do that, there is only one path, and it is to simply outwork your opponent. And, a little bit of puck luck every now and again wouldn’t hurt.
What to Watch For
- Schneider is slated for a return sometime in early March. He won’t play tonight, but with the Devils on a back-to-back this Thursday and Friday, if he is healthy enough he could return in time for the matchup in Raleigh on Friday.
- Once again, seeing how some of the teams with multiple acquisitions, particularly at forward, align is intriguing. This is not a problem the Canes will have this week.
Sunday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
The Winnipeg Jets make their way to Raleigh on Sunday for their only trip of the season. As yet another serious playoff contender, the Jets also made a splash at the deadline as the second-place team in the Central Division sent a first-round pick, fourth-round pick, and a prospect to the St. Louis Blues to acquire Paul Stastny. The Jets also traded a fourth-rounder to Montreal for some blueline depth in Joe Morrow. The veteran Stastny is not the scorer he once was, but he is wonderful in the faceoff dot, in the defensive end, and has already chipped in 40 points for a Blues team that was around the playoff cut line out West prior to the trade.
Having won five of their last six, the Jets have overcome some injuries to continue to solidify their playoff standing in the Central. Goalie Steve Mason has missed over a month and a half with a concussion, star defenseman Jacob Trouba has missed a month thus far with a significant ankle injury, Shawn Matthias has been sidelined with an upper body injury, Brandon Tanev with an upper body injury, and Adam Lowry has missed almost a month with an upper body injury. Despite all of the injuries that has challenged their depth, the Jets continue to churn along as a team, checking in at fourth in the NHL in both goals for and goals against.
The goal scoring ability in that stat is not the surprise. With Blake Wheeler (72 points), the electric Patrik Laine (51 points), as well as Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, and blue liners Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers, the Jets have been known for scoring talent. The change that has solidified them as a playoff team is the defensive and goal-tending improvements. While Mason has been out for an extended period, starter Connor Hellebuyck has been dominant in his 49 starts. A .924 save percentage and 2.32 goals against average have been the best numbers for a Jets netminder since their return to Winnipeg. The 24-year-old has worked hard, coming in at fifth in total starts thus far, but the workload has not appeared to faze him. In order for the Jets to win not only the first playoff game in Thrashers/Jets history, but potentially a playoff series or more, Hellebuyck will be relied upon even more.
If the Hurricanes are to slow down the Jets in the fourth game of a long and important week, they will have to make sure they match the speed of players such as Laine and Wheeler. The Jets create offense on nearly every rush, so tightened gaps and clean play in the neutral zone are an absolute must. In the offensive end, traffic in front is critical to make the job that much tougher for Hellebuyck who is clearly locked in at this point in net.
What to Watch For
- Pay attention to the offensive skill and creativity of the Jets. They have offense at a number of levels and facets of their team game. Their speed and talent is a fun watch.
- Who does Bill Peters use his last change opportunity to match his best card, the Slavin-Pesce pairing against? I would expect the Scheifele-Wheeler group (along with whomever ends up on their line, obviously) to be the first recipients.