The Canes have struggled against Metro Division opponents all year, and the Rangers in particular. The Rangers have won all three meetings between the two teams this season. If Carolina had won just one of those three meetings, they would be above the playoff cut line. As it stands, they’re on the outside looking in.
That said, Carolina is on pace to finish with over 100 points by the end of the season (Last year’s team finished with 99 points en route to the Conference Finals). Even the race for the division title is not settled. Pittsburgh and Washington are tied with 80 points each, only 8 above the Canes.
With at least a point in five of their last six games, Carolina seems to be peaking at the right time. In addition to the big names, Haydn Fleury has played some of his best hockey in the NHL over the last two weeks, and Trevor van Riemsdyk has elevated his game. Yes, being partnered with Jaccob Slavin helps in that regard, but TVR has answered the bell in his own right. He’s handled the increased minutes and greater defensive responsibilities thrown at him just fine.
Petr Mrazek (20-15-2, .905 SV%, 2.67 GAA) got his first road win in two months in Nashville. With two straight wins overall, the coaching staff will give Petr the nod tonight in a crucial divisional matchup.
The Canes’ expected lines:
Andrei Svechnikov - Sebastian Aho - Teuvo Teravainen
Warren Foegele - Jordan Staal - Justin Williams
Nino Niederreiter - Erik Haula - Martin Necas
Ryan Dzingel - Lucas Wallmark - Brock McGinn
Jaccob Slavin - Trevor van Riemsdyk
Jake Gardiner - Brett Pesce
Haydn Fleury - Joel Edmundson
Injuries and Scratches: Dougie Hamilton (leg), Jordan Martinook (upper body)
The New York Rangers won’t go away. Well out of the playoff picture at the start of February, the Rangers have gone 7-3-0 this month. They’re now only six points back of a playoff spot.
The Rangers are powered by two Russians — Artemi Panarin (30g, 49a) and goalie Igor Shesterkin (6-1-0, .939 SV%, 2.28 GAA), who will get the start tonight in his first appearance against Carolina. Shesterkin last played in Wednesday’s win over the Blackhawks and has rattled off five consecutive wins. His last loss was more than a month ago to Columbus.
A key battle to watch in this one will be Panarin vs. Slavin at even strength. Both players — Slavin (plus-29) and Panarin (plus-30) — are in the top five in the NHL in plus/minus rating.
Julien Gauthier, just traded to the Rangers this week, is expected to suit up against the Canes for the first time as an opponent. He’s looking for his first NHL goal. We are required to mention that for...uh, reasons.
The Rangers’ expected lines:
Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Pavel Buchnevich
Artemi Panarin - Ryan Strome - Jesper Fast
Phil Di Giuseppe - Filip Chytil - Kaapo Kakko
Brendan Lemieux - Brett Howden - Julien Gauthier
Brady Skjei - Jacob Trouba
Anthony Deangelo - Marc Staal
Ryan Lindgren - Adam Fox
Injuries and Scratches: Micheal Haley (core muscle surgery), Alexandar Georgiev (healthy)