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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Rangers, Panthers and Stars

The trade deadline looms as the Canes continue a run of games against teams behind them in the standings.

2019 SAP NHL All-Star Skills Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

New York Rangers

Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After finally breaking through in Madison Square Garden, the Carolina Hurricanes will welcome the New York Rangers into PNC Arena on Tuesday for the final time this season. The Canes will be seeking to win the season series outright against the Rangers for the first time since 2010-11.

A familiar foe, as a division rival and recent opponent, the Rangers roster has remained intact as the last week before the trade deadline commences. To see a more in depth look at the Rangers roster, check out this same article from two weeks ago.

For their part, the Rangers are rumored to potentially be willing to move pending UFA’s Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello. Those two players account for 79 total points for the Rangers, good for third and fourth most on the roster respectively. Their loss would further inhibit this year’s squad on the offensive end, but could reel in quality draft considerations that could continue what management in New York publicly declared last season was a rebuild on the fly.

While the Rangers remained competitive for the first half of the year, they have never been able to maintain a level of consistency that would lead their front office or their fans to believe this is anything but a building season. Growth from young forwards such as Pavel Buchnevich and Brett Howden (currently injured) are on the top of the Rangers priority list as 2019 draws to a close, as well as the continued emergence of Mika Zibanejad as a first line caliber performer.

As the games become more crucial, the Canes must seize an opportunity at home against a team that is clearly in transition. Getting out in front and controlling the tempo and style of the game is paramount. Can the Canes take care of business at home?

What to Watch For

  • The Rangers are missing key pieces on an already thin blueline with Brady Skjei and Neal Pionk both uncertain for Tuesday. If they are out, look for the Canes to force pucks deep in the Rangers zone as often as possible to force the green defense of the Rangers to dig the puck back out of the zone.
  • Who will be in net for Carolina? Right now, it doesn’t appear there is a wrong answer, but it will be interesting to see what sort of goalie plan Rod Brind’Amour has moving forward.

Florida Panthers

Thursday, 7:00 p.m. at BB&T Center

NHL: Calgary Flames at Florida Panthers Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers appeared to do a solid for the Hurricanes on Sunday night as they dispatched the Montreal Canadiens, a current wild card holder, by a score of 6-3. But with more than 20 games remaining, a team as talented as the Panthers cannot be written off just yet, despite being more than 10 points outside a playoff spot at the moment. It will be important for the Canes to not only dismiss the Panthers as spoilers, but to remove them from contention once and for all.

The Panthers have been active already at the trade deadline as they shipped out forwards Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to Pittsburgh for under-achieving forward Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan, as well as a couple of draft picks. The coming offseason will see a potential flurry of activity, as the Panthers are seen as a potential landing spot for a high-end free agent such as Artemi Panarin come July. Until then, the presence of young, top-end offensive talent in Aleksander Barkov (57 points in 57 games) and Jonathan Huberdeau (both 25 or younger) provides the solid base on which the Panthers hope to build their next contender on.

One area where the Panthers face a challenge is in net. The tandem of Roberto Luongo and James Reimer has not lived up to their lofty contract status, and has left many to speculate Florida as a possible destination this offseason for Sergei Bobrovsky, as he is expected to depart Columbus. With a combined .895 save percentage in net, the Panthers are certainly aware that a long-term solution is needed in order to get the rest of the roster back on solid footing.

Thursday will again represent an opportunity to take advantage of a team behind them in the standings. The Panthers remain a team with something to play for, if barely, and their current stretch sees them take on teams they must track down for a wildcard berth (Montreal, Buffalo, and Carolina). For the Canes, this represents an opportunity to deliver a serious body-blow to a team that might end up chasing you before all is said and done. A road win in South Florida would go a long ways toward moving the Panthers out of the rear view mirror.

What to Watch For

  • Derick Brassard has enjoyed eight games in a Panthers uniform to date, and notched his first goal with the team on Sunday. Will he have a resurgence from a sluggish start to the season, similar to what Nino Niederreiter has provided Carolina? Keep an eye on his game.
  • Vincent Trocheck returned recently from a nasty leg injury that seemed as though it might keep him out all season. Trocheck is a quality player that has fluctuated in ice time since his return, but remains a key part of this roster.

Dallas Stars

Saturday, 5:00 p.m. at American Airlines Center

Arizona Coyotes v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Hurricanes return the favor directly, as they will venture to the Lone Star State for a second consecutive Saturday night tilt against the Dallas Stars. We provided a more in depth look at the Stars roster just last week.

The Hurricanes will surely hope to provide a better all-around performance than was shown this past Saturday, as they cruised to a shutout win behind a lights out Petr Mrazek, despite being largely outplayed through the first 40 minutes of action. The Stars stressed the Canes defensively in a number of areas as they created offensive opportunities from numerous angles, all to no avail against the razor sharp Mrazek.

As discussed previously, the Stars have morphed into a defensive-oriented hockey team, despite the continued presence of high-end offensive performers such as Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and the defensive tandem of John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen. The recent loss of top netminder Ben Bishop has placed added stress on Anton Khudobin, and as such, the Stars have lost four of their last five (1-3-1). Bishop could return this week, which would certainly be a boost to a team that is desperately attempting to hold on to a playoff spot out West.

Expect that another piece or two could be added, perhaps even before Saturday to help push the Stars into a better position to contend, as they currently sit second in goals against in the NHL, but a very poor 29th offensively (145 goals). If they can maintain their stinginess defensively, the Stars could could be a dangerous team should they make their way into the Western Conference bracket.

What to Watch For

  • Will the Stars get another crack at Mrazek? Will Bishop return in time to take the net for the Stars?
  • The Canes managed only one power play against the Stars, but it provided the knockout punch on Saturday, in what was one of the most crisp man-advantages the Canes have had all year. Can they take advantage of those opportunities, should they come again?