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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Rangers, Senators and Oilers

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A three-game week, including the final home game before the All-Star break, awaits the suddenly hot Canes.

NHL: New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

New York Rangers

Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at Madison Square Garden

NHL: New York Rangers at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes enter Tuesday night’s tilt with the New York Rangers on an incomprehensible 15-game losing streak at Madison Square Garden. They will look to rewrite a terrible history at the Garden as they enter Tuesday having won seven of their previous eight games to claw within four points of a playoff spot.

The Rangers will renew acquaintances with the Canes as they attempt to combat a losing spell that has seen them drop six of their past seven. They have slid to a full ten points out of a playoff spot after beginning the year in promising fashion in what was billed by many as a transition season.

As expected, offense has been a bit of a challenge for the Blueshirts as they currently stand 22nd in the league in scoring. The lack of a prime offensive star has forced the Rangers to rely on a balanced attack, but the depth that has been required has fallen short to date. Mika Zibanejad currently leads the Rangers with 37 points, followed closely by Chris Kreider (33 points), who far and away leads the Rangers with 21 goals. Kreider is on pace for career highs in both goals and points, but at 27, his expanded role in the offense has been more of a sign of talent lost across the board than of an uptick in true productivity.

While the Rangers are gaining valuable experience for players such as Filip Chytil (19 years-old), Brett Howden (20 years-old), and Pavel Buchnevich (23 years-old), that trio has only been able to produce 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) despite a total of 117 games played as a group.

When you combine the lack of offensive firepower with a defense that has allowed the sixth-most goals in the NHL, you get a recipe for real struggles. Despite the presence of a few veteran stalwarts on the blueline (Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc Staal and Adam McQuaid), the softer underbelly of the defensive unit has continued to expose an aging Henrik Lundqvist to the fifth-most shots against. Despite that barrage, Lundqvist has maintained a respectable .907 save percentage, while allowing a shade over three goals per game.

For the Hurricanes to break their streak at MSG, they must continue to produce offense with all four lines as they have done in their recent stretch of good hockey. With depth a concern, especially on the blueline, for the Rangers, the third and fourth lines for Carolina should have ample opportunity. Can they continue to cash in?

What to Watch For

  • Kevin Hayes has been out for close to two weeks with an upper body injury. He is tied for second in points (33 points), and the offensive starved Rangers could certainly use him. Will he return for Tuesday’s tilt?
  • With a well-spaced week of games, how will Rod Brind’Amour handle his goalie situation for the week?

Ottawa Senators

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

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Los Angeles Kings Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Hurricanes will host the Ottawa Senators in their final home date of January on Friday, in what is the Sens’ only trip to Raleigh this season. The Canes do so after visiting the Senators just over a week ago in the Canadian capital. For a deeper look at the Sens roster, check out that recent Behind Enemy Lines for a rundown.

Since the Canes last saw Ottawa on January 6th, the Sens were finally able to end their losing streak at eight games, actually picking up a pair of wins during their California road trip. Despite their breakthrough, the Senators still sit at the bottom of the Atlantic Division and are only one point ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers for the cellar in the Eastern Conference. While a talent deficiency has been evident on the blueline all season (the Sens are last in the league in goals against), the injury last Sunday to their most talented defenseman, Thomas Chabot (38 points in 38 games), has left an even bigger void in front of the revolving door that has occupied the net when Craig Anderson has been unable to.

As the season moves toward the All-Star break, decisions are bound to be made regarding a number of older players on the Sens roster. A high number of attractive forwards (Mark Stone, Mikkel Boedker, Chris Tierney, Ryan Dzingel, and others) could potentially be had for the right price, as the Sens close the book on competing in 2019. Changes are most certainly expected. The only question is how much value the Sens can extract.

For Carolina, the solid, tight hockey which they have played over the past two weeks is the exact prescription for a Friday night result in front of the home faithful. If they are unable to provide that some type of quality, the Sens certainly have enough offensive firepower (12th in offense) to create serious problems.

What to Watch For

  • If the Canes seek offensive help at the trade deadline, Ottawa could perhaps be a worthy trading partner for bottom-six reinforcements. Keep an eye on players like Ryan Dzingel or perhaps even a higher-end option such as the ever-elusive Matt Duchene. Who knows what can happen, should the Canes continue their winning ways?
  • Craig Anderson continues to battle concussion symptoms as the week begins. Should he not be able to return by Friday, expect Anders Nilsson in the first of what is a back-to-back for the Sens.

Edmonton Oilers

Sunday, 9:30 p.m. at Rogers Place

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Hurricanes will leave after Friday for a Western Canada trip that will conclude the “first half” of the season. The trip commences with a trip to Edmonton to take on Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

After replacing Todd McLellan behind the bench with veteran coach Ken Hitchcock, the Oilers have practically seen the same results, as they have managed a 21-21-3 record to date. Despite having possibly the best player on the planet in Connor McDavid, the Oilers have struggled to put up consistent offense. Ranked 22nd in offense, the Oilers’ attack is basically distilled down to McDavid, Leon Draisaitl (54 points), and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (40 points). While depth is the clear concern for such a top-heavy roster, seeing players such as former Hurricane great Ty Rattie playing directly alongside McDavid points to the dire situation in terms of roster depth for the Oilers.

Defensively, while Hitchcock has brought in his usual defensive philosophy, the Oilers continue struggle to keep opponents out of the net as well. Ranked 22nd in goals against, the Oilers have seen their former number one netminder Cam Talbot basically relegated to a time-share at best with Mikko Koskinen. Koskinen has been far superior on the year, as his .913 save percentage out-rates Talbot by 17 points, including three shutout in just 21 starts. With a damaged defensive unit (Andrej Sekera yet to play a game, Oscar Klefbom nursing a hand injury, and Alexander Petrovic dealing with a concussion), the Oilers must score at a greater pace in order to pick up the slack.

Despite the concerns, the wild card spots in the Western Conference are very much up for grabs with the Oilers just two points out of the final spot despite their .500 record. Can McDavid put this team on his back to carry them to the playoffs? It will be interesting to see how the season plays out and how the results affect the decisions going forward on the roster, behind the bench, and in the front office.

What to Watch For

  • This is said every time the Canes matchup with the Oilers, but watch the speed and fluidity of McDavid. It is second to none. The past matchups have featured great play between McDavid and Jaccob Slavin. Keep an eye on that high-end action.
  • The Hurricanes special teams have taken a step forward recently, and the power play particularly has seen some increased success. The Oilers penalty kill sits 25th in the league. Watch for Carolina to continue that success if they can earn a few opportunities.