Monday, 7:00 p.m. at Madison Square Garden
The New York Rangers spent most of the last month cleaning house for what they hope to be a swift rebuild into playoff contenders. Ryan McDonaugh, gone. J.T. Miller, gone. Rick Nash, gone. Michael Grabner, gone. Nick Holden, gone. In return, the Rangers collected a handful of players, but are most likely intrigued by the bounty of draft picks acquired: Two first-rounders, two second-rounders, one third-rounder, and a seventh-rounder. And in the past month, the Rangers have predictably been a very poor team, having suffered a seven-game losing streak during that stretch, and going 3-8-2 since February 13th.
While the Rangers can still boast a household name in net in Henrik Lundqvist, as well as promising young prospect Alexandar Georgiev, who has now begun his NHL career, they have certainly put their goalies to the test since losing a large chunk of their lineup. After allowing 29 shots to the Minnesota Wild in the first game of their seven-game losing streak, the Rangers have allowed no fewer than 33 shots in each game since then, and have averaged allowing 39.5 shots in those contests. For the Carolina Hurricanes, the formula is simple. Get bodies to the net and let the puck fly. There should be plenty of opportunity, converting those chances will be the key to victory.
Offensively, the Rangers still have some punch left with Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, as well as youngster Pavel Buchnevich who is second on the team in points (albeit with just 36). The bottom line, however, is that this is one of the more vulnerable teams in the Eastern Conference currently, and in order for the Hurricanes to go on the type of run they need, a win in the Big Apple is an absolute must.
What to Watch For
- Scott Darling is in net in New York in the first of a back-to-back. Can he keep his game together to allow the Canes to get out in front?
- Lundqvist is expected to play, but no final decision has been made. For Carolina, bodies to the front of the net are crucial against Lundqvist who plays deep in his crease.
Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
Another critical opponent will already be waiting for the Hurricanes in Raleigh when they arrive home from New York early Tuesday morning. The Boston Bruins have Monday off, and will look to dash Carolina’s hopes further on Tuesday with a revamped and primed roster that is set for a playoff run. The Bruins were cooled off by the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon, as a six-game winning streak was ended with a 3-1 defeat in Chicago.
The Bruins are comfortably in the second playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, but they still have their sights set on the top spot, with the Tampa Bay Lightning six points ahead of them, but with three remaining regular season matchups between the two teams.
The Bruins have reinforced their roster with the recent additions of Rick Nash and Tommy Wingels, but their top line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron still leads the way. As chronicled a few weeks ago, the goal-tending in Boston has been the solid foundation that this team has been built on. Tuukka Rask continues to be fabulous, but he has been able to get substantial rest because backup Anton Khudobin has been equally impressive, with each netminder posting identical .918 save percentages.
The only issue for the Bruins in the interim is their injury status. Bergeron is out with a fractured foot for at least two more weeks. Charlie McAvoy sprained his MCL and will most at least three more weeks. Marchand and Torey Krug may even miss Tuesday’s game in Raleigh as Marchand is dealing with an upper body injury and Krug is nursing a groin issue. A rash of injuries just after the trade deadline is never fun, but if they can regain their health in time for the postseason, this will certainly be a team to reckon with in the Eastern Conference.
What to Watch For
- As good as Boston has been in net all season, since the trade deadline, their defensive game has not been their strength. The B’s have allowed at least three goals in six of their eight contests since the deals. They simply have scored more on most nights. Can Carolina light the lamp enough to hang around?
- Top-10 in both the Power Play and Penalty Kill, the Bruins make a living owning special teams. The best way for Carolina to avoid losing that battle is to avoid fighting that battle. Stay out of the box!
Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
The week for the Hurricanes continues with a back-to-back concluding the week, which begins with a matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers. After surging all the way into the lead in the Metropolitan Division for a fleeting moment just a few weeks ago, the Flyers crashed back down into third place on the heels of a five game losing streak (0-4-1) that finally was halted with their win on Saturday over the Winnipeg Jets. Still in excellent position to make the postseason, the Flyers must simply avoid a similar swoon in the final 13 games of the season to return to the playoff party.
Similar to the Bruins, we touched in greater detail on the Flyers a few weeks ago, but the current version of the Flyers is no longer dealing with the injuries that hampered their offense such as Wayne Simmonds being absent for a stretch. The only serious issue for Philly now is that Petr Mrazek is flying without a safety net. The recently acquired goalie will not have Brian Elliott or Michal Neuvirth coming back behind him anytime soon, which means his health, as well as his quality of play, mush remain high in order for the Flyers to expect to have any success in the near term. The trior of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier continue to roll out impressive numbers, and with Simmonds back in front of the net on the power play, expect their percentage to go up after taking a swoon of late.
If Carolina is going to have success against the Flyers, they absolutely must contain their top two scoring lines, and put stress on the defensive group with their speed. If doing so earns them chances on the power play, the Canes must punish the weakest link of the Flyers, who are 29th on the penalty kill at just 75.5%.
What to Watch For
- With two back-to-backs this week, it is unrealistic to expect Cam Ward to play both ends in each situation, but with Darling starting in New York, if Carolina finds itself having success this week, may Ward get a shot at both weekend opponents? It could be an interesting decision for Bill Peters.
- The Flyers will also be on the front end of a back-to-back, so it will be interesting to see how they approach their goalie situation with youngster Alex Lyon currently serving as the backup. The Flyers take on the Washington Capitals on Sunday.
Sunday, 5:00 p.m. at Barclays Center
The New York Islanders’ wacky, dizzying season has continued to provide wild swings, but most recently an eight-game losing streak (0-4-4) took them to the fringes of contention. Having fallen to seventh in the NHL in goals scored, they still take up residence at the bottom of the league in goals allowed, having yielded 245, which is 12 more than the second worst team, the Ottawa Senators.
Jaroslav Halak has managed to keep a respectable, if average, .908 save percentage with the starter’s portion of the playing time, but the appalling number of shots allowed (2479 in 69 games) is remarkable.
Alternately, the breakneck pace of the shots allowed has almost been matched offensively due to the spectacular scoring talents of John Tavares and Calder front-runner Mathew Barzal, who each are on a nice point-per-game pace with 69 points in 69 games. With Josh Bailey (65 points), Anders Lee (53 points), Jordan Eberle (48 points) and Nick Leddy (40 points) all above the 40 point plateau, it is clear that creating offense has not been an issue.
What to Watch For
- For the second time in a week, the Canes will be on the back side of a back-to-back against an opponent that doesn’t play the night before. While all of the Islander-Cane matchups of recent vintage have been chance-filled and up and down, it may be difficult for the Canes to match that pace if they aren’t careful with the puck. Decision-making will be paramount for Carolina, because if they chase the game against the Isles, they are in trouble Sunday.
- Who will be in net? I would imagine that the results from earlier in the week will dictate a lot about the lineup in general for Carolina on Sunday. Stay tuned.