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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Senators, Oilers and Stars

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The Canes end their road trip, then play host to two Western Conference foes.

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Ottawa Senators

Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. at Canadian Tire Centre

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline looms large over the Ottawa Senators as they enter play on Tuesday night. With multiple names rumored to be on the move, the Sens roster could look a lot different in a very short period of time. Pending UFA’s Mark Stone, Matt Duchene (rumored to be close to signing an extension), and Ryan Dzingel are heavily involved as the deadline nears and the Senators continue to languish in last place in the Eastern Conference.

While it is possible that the Hurricanes could be interested in acquiring one of these options, the more immediate concern for the Canes is their ability to take care of business closing out what has been a fine road trip up to this point. After pushing out to three impressive wins at the outset of the trip, closing it with back-to-back defeats to Eastern Conference also-rans would be a legitimate disappointment. Combine that with the Canes’ desire to make amends for their listless performance at home against the Sens almost a month ago in what was Nino Niederreiter’s first game as a Hurricane, and Carolina has every reason to come prepared and ready to dig in for what should be a tough battle against a team that has proven they can at least score with some regularity.

After their win in Raleigh on January 18th, the Senators immediately embarked on a five-game losing streak that was just recently snapped with wins on home ice over the hapless Anaheim Ducks, and more interestingly, the Winnipeg Jets. Therefore, the Canes need to look no further than the last game to be warned of the type of effort required to earn two points. The two victories have showcased the talents of the rumored trade bait, as Duchene and Stone each posted four points (three goals, one assist) over the two contests. If Carolina is to be effective, corralling Stone and Duchene will go a long way towards success. The depth that the Canes have played with recently with all four lines contributing is also crucial against a team that has unquestionably high-end talent, but lacks in the depth department. Turn this game into a fast-paced four line battle, keep special teams on the sidelines for the most part, and the Hurricanes will have a decided advantage.

What to Watch For

  • The Canes power play has continued to struggle, and was a serious factor in their defeat in New Jersey on Sunday. Ottawa is a bottom-six penalty kill in the NHL, and spend an average of 8.8 minutes per game shorthanded. Can Carolina take advantage of their opportunities?
  • Who will be in net for Carolina? Petr Mrazek has seen two consecutive starts, but Curtis McElhinney started the first two contests of the trip.

Edmonton Oilers

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

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Despite producing what has been mostly a terrible brand of hockey, terrible enough to get GM Peter Chiarelli fired (as well as Todd McLellan earlier this season), the Edmonton Oilers remain on the periphery of the Western Conference wild card discussion. Even at 24-26-5, the Oilers sit just six points out of a playoff spot. With that in mind, the question swirling around Edmonton is whether or not the Oilers should attempt to provide some sort of band-aid for a roster that has fallen into disrepair in an attempt to salvage a playoff berth, or to trade away assets that might have some value in an attempt to build for a stronger future. While it would seem fairly simple to decide to build a more sturdy roster in the future, a rabid fanbase and the otherworldly talents of Connor McDavid might persuade the organization to take their chances in trying to get into the dance.

For a deeper look at the roster issues the Oilers face, check out the breakdown from the Behind Enemy Lines prior to the Canes trip to Alberta just before the break. The bottom line for the Oilers is that wasting the prime years of McDavid (who has an astounding 80 points in 54 games) has added significant stress from the fanbase. Openly discontent fans have taken out their frustration on social media and at Rogers Arena. One fan hurled his jersey on the ice in protest last week during another defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks, and Connor McDavid has expressed that he understands the fans are angry and frustrated at what has become an underachieving team, which was just a win away from the Western Conference Final just two seasons ago.

With so many holes within the roster, it is difficult to decide where the Oilers would need to add to stabilize themselves for a playoff berth. Goalie has been a serious issue with Cam Talbot providing his worst season in the final year of his deal. His .893 save percentage has gotten him into basically a timeshare with Mikko Koskinen, who has been better at .906, but would not appear to be a long term solution in net. Quality on the blueline and NHL-caliber depth at forward are also issues, but addressing those would come at a significant cost due to the cap-strapped nature of the Oilers payroll would mean significant draft compensation would be needed to help the Oilers move salary in a deal to improve the roster as it stands.

Regardless, the Oilers will enter Friday night’s contest in need of clarity as the deadline approaches. Clarity that can only be resolved by a streak, whether it be winning or losing.

What to Watch For

  • As is said mostly every time the Canes take on the Oilers, what to watch is Connor McDavid. Arguably the most talented player in the NHL, McDavid has world-class speed. His matchups with Jaccob Slavin have been terrific in the past, so look for that to continue.
  • With last change at home, and no Jordan Staal available to match up with McDavid, it will be interesting to see how Brind’Amour manipulates his forwards when McDavid is iced. Rolling the four lines has been successful for Carolina, but will he look to play matchups against a top-heavy opponent?

Dallas Stars

Saturday, 8:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Stars have continued to deal with the injury bug, most recently with starting netminder Ben Bishop being sidelined for an undisclosed amount of time, but have managed to stay relevant in the Central Division playoff race where they currently hold third place. Powered by a recent five-game winning streak, the Stars appear to be in prime position to claim a playoff spot, but may need to add some reinforcements to account for some significant losses. While Bishop’s length of absence has not been disclosed, the Stars do know that key defenseman Marc Methot will not return this season, and that Centers Martin Hanzal and Tyler Pitlick continue to miss significant time. The question is, will the Stars have the means to pull off another trade after they acquired Andrew Cogliano from the Ducks almost a month ago and re-acquired Jamie Oleksiak from the Pittsburgh Penguins for their blueline?

This season has been a strange turnabout for the formerly high-octane Stars. Just four seasons ago, they led the NHL in offense, while surviving with suspect defense and goal-tending. Now, after trending in this way for the past few seasons, they have morphed into the inverse of their previous identity. Sitting at 29th in the NHL in goals scored, but 2nd in goals against, the Stars are a tight-checking, defensive oriented team despite elite offensive players in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin being the face of the organization. Toss in Alexander Radulov, who is second on the team with 44 points this season, and you would think that a slumping offensive season across the board would have spelled certain doom for the Stars.

But in the tandem of Bishop and former Cane Anton Khudobin in net, Dallas has iced the most formidable goalie group in the league as they have each provided a .924 save percentage and a goals against average under 2.50. Khudobin will have to take on the heavy lifting in the near-term, making even a reasonably long absence a serious issue for this defensive-heavy team. Fortunately for the Stars, they are in the midst of a stretch that only sees them play back-to-back games once until mid-March. If Bishop can return by then, they will be able to focus their trade deadline attention on adding some scoring and blueline depth.

For Carolina to have success against Dallas, they must capitalize on the offensive opportunities that present themselves. In the past, a more defensive style may have suited the Canes fine against the Stars, but pushing the action and playing with pace and flow should help the Canes open up the neutral zone against the tight defensive structure of the Stars. If the Canes settle into the Stars adopted style of play, it could be a long and frustrating Saturday night at PNC Arena.

What to Watch For

  • We discussed the top end offensive talent that the Stars do in fact possess. It is apparent most on the powerplay where the Stars rate a solid 14th in the league, despite being only 29th in offense.
  • In the second of a back-to-back, how will Carolina manage their minutes in both of the games to make sure they remain fresh? The rolling of lines and pairings served them well in Buffalo and New York this past weekend, but can they recreate that at home?