Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
As the season’s final days begin to count down, one of the welcome joys headed to PNC Arena is the rare opportunity to see Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid make an appearance in Raleigh. Tuesday night, the underachieving Edmonton Oilers and underachieving Carolina Hurricanes take the ice with both teams destined for the draft lottery.
The Oilers’ disappointment is a result of regression on both sides of the puck. After finishing last season with the eighth best goals-for and goals-against numbers, both categories have fallen in the bottom ten in the league. While McDavid (89 points) and his sidekick Leon Draisaitl (62 points) have provided their typical high level of production, the severe drop off to the third highest scorer on the team, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, at 38 points has left a canyon in their offensive production that they simply could not bridge. Combine that dropoff with the below average season from Cam Talbot in net, who emerged as a top end netminder in 2017 but has struggled with a .908 save percentage and nearly three goals against per game this year, and you get a team that may have been a year ahead of schedule last season falling behind schedule in a season that many viewed them as Stanley Cup contenders.
As the Oilers head into the offseason, assuming they don’t continue to strike lightning by winning the lottery, they will have to figure out a way to surround McDavid and Draisaitl with solid complementary talent that chips in offensively, but defensively protects a defensive core that will continue to evolve while being led by younger contributors Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson. Oilers fans got a taste of postseason success last year, so the pressure is on to put out a consistent winner in Edmonton sooner rather than later.
What to Watch For
- Connor McDavid. Just watch his speed. He plays at a different pace than anyone else in the highest league in the world. It really is something to watch. His battles with Jaccob Slavin in the few previous matchups have been incredible to watch.
- Will Scott Darling return to the net after his win on Sunday? Getting Darling in a better place headed into the offseason could be the most important part of the end of this season, should the Canes decide to enter next season with Darling in their plans. Look for him to get more opportunity.
Thursday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
After a simply disastrous start (2-15-3 in their first 20 games), the rebuilding Arizona Coyotes have played a much more respectable brand of hockey but remain a cellar-dwelling team in the Pacific Division.
Clayton Keller, the 19-year-old dynamo, has been the best player on this team as a teenager. His production (20 goals, 52 points) leads the team, and he is very clearly the piece that any form of a competitive Coyotes roster will be built around in the future. As a team, the Coyotes are the lowest scoring offense in the league at only 2.37 goals per game. Improving their offense will obviously be a big part of getting competitive, but there are other aspects of the rebuilt that could also be coming into place.
Antti Raanta has gotten the lion’s share of time in net, with 40 appearances. At age 28, his solid season to date (.924 save percentage, 2.42 goals against average) has given the Coyotes the belief that he may be their answer in net for the foreseeable future.
With a dynamic, young goal scorer, a universally hailed two-way defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and a potentially reliable goalie on the back end, the Coyotes have some big pieces in place. Can they now fill the rest of the roster in around this trio to ice a playoff contender? Time will tell, but the Coyotes could be making legitimate progress in getting back into the mix in the Western Conference.
What to Watch For
- Clayton Keller may be headed towards at least being a finalist for the Calder Trophy. His first trip to Raleigh as a player affords Canes fans with their first look at one of the more dynamic young scorers in the NHL.
- Both teams are in the top-third of the league in terms of suppressing opponent shots. Finishing the best opportunities is gonna be imperative in a game that promises to be low in terms of scoring chances.
Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at Canadian Tire Centre; Monday 3/26, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
After coming up one goal shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final last season, the wheels have come completely off for the Ottawa Senators this season. Acquiring Matt Duchene has not had the intended effect on a stagnant offense. Superstar captain Erik Karlsson has had a bizarre rift that includes an argument over an expensive Uber ride (what!?) with the organization that seemingly makes his departure more likely than not in the pending offseason. And the boring, impenetrable defensive system of head coach Guy Boucher has been shredded and is next to last in Goals Allowed.
With the team potentially parting with players such as Karlsson, Bobby Ryan, and possibly Mike Hoffman, there is also the likely end to another era in Ottawa. Goalie Craig Anderson has had an underwhelming 36-year-old season with a .902 save percentage in 51 appearances. His career as a starter may be over, and that could lead to his exit from Ottawa as the Senators begin what may be an attempted swift rebuild.
In terms of the actual games here at the end of the season, one of the most vulnerable places for the Senators has been special teams. Ranked 26th on the power play (16.97%) and 29th on the penalty kill (75.25%), taking advantage of the Sens on special teams is a big part of the recipe to defeat them.
Karlsson remains an incredibly impressive talent, and the Sens do have some capable scorers if they are given good chances in the offensive zone, but a solid all-around effort from the Hurricanes should put them in a position to win this game and the return engagement in Raleigh on Monday.
What to Watch For
- These two teams have a number of similarities, but one that is not close is the shots allowed. The Sens have allowed the eighth most shots, while the Canes continue to suppress shots by allowing the second-fewest. On paper, the Canes should have more chances, so let’s see if that plays out to Carolina’s benefit.
- As the Canes continue to play out the string without reinforcements from Charlotte, expect to see Bill Peters tinker with the lines often to see if there is any sort of chemistry that can develop.