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Playoff Preview: Five Questions with Blueshirt Banter part two

Andrew answered five questions provided by Blueshirt Banter Deputy Editor Mike Murphy to break down the Canes-Rangers Stanley Cup Qualifier series.

New York Rangers v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Karl DeBlaker/NHLI via Getty Images

We ran Blueshirt Banter’s answers to our questions about the Rangers earlier this morning, here’s my answers to their deputy editor, Mike Murphy’s, questions about the Hurricanes. These answers were provided prior to Sara Civian’s report that Dougie Hamilton could be out “weeks”.

  1. What do the Hurricanes need to do to win this series?

They need to do three things much better than they did in being swept by the Rangers in the regular season.

  • Play much better against Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. That duo gave the Hurricanes absolute fits in the regular season, combining for seven goals and 16 points in four games. Obviously you can’t hope to completely shut down those caliber players, but doing a better job containing them by not making it easy on them will be key. Not doing things like leaving Panarin wide-open in the dead slot or turning the puck over to Zibanejad at the offensive blue line for a breakaway would be a good start.
  • Even up the special teams battle. This was another key factor in the regular-season series, with the Canes going 2-for-17 on the power play, and the Rangers 5-for-15. Better discipline in not giving the Rangers nearly four power plays per game would be a good start, though that may be difficult given that the Hurricanes were the most penalized team in the league, going shorthanded 3.57 times per game. When the Ranges do go up a man, the Canes need to do a better job taking time and space away from the likes of Panarin, Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Tony DeAngelo.

On the power play, the Canes simply need to convert. I realize that sounds simplistic, but, in theory, the Canes’ eighth-ranked power play should have feasted on the Rangers’ PK. Better results from a unit who’s options will *hopefully* now include a healthy Dougie Hamilton will be important.

  • Even up the goaltending battle. A big part of the Canes’ historic struggles against the Rangers stem from the otherworldly goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, and Igor Shesterkin picked up right where he left off this season. The Canes will need to get as many pucks to the net as possible and get to the crease to make life difficult for Shesterkin, and Petr Mrazek and/or James Reimer will need to be up to the task of matching the Rangers’ netminders.

2. What are your thoughts on the Brady Skjei trade and Skjei himself?

Given the Hurricanes’ depth and long-term contracts on defense, I was definitely surprised. Especially with the flat cap, moving out a defenseman will likely be necessary in the near future. It definitely made sense in the short term with Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce out, but likely necessitates another move in the long term. I’d speculate this was Eric Tulsky’s brain child, and he saw something in Skjei that would be a good fit for the Canes’ system.

As for Skjei himself, I’ve been impressed. His skating is very strong, and he’s a good puck mover. His ability to break up plays with his stick in the neutral zone is impressive, and I like the way he plays in the offensive zone. He played his off side after the trade given the Canes’ injuries, but should be able to move back to the left now. I definitely noticed some of the issues in his own end that made him fall out of favor in New York, but I think the Canes will have the personnel going forward to cover him.

We likely won’t get to see it this year, but the possibility of a top four going forward that pairs Jaccob Slavin with Hamilton and Skjei with Pesce is tantalizing. Pesce is the perfect partner to cover for Skjei given his shutdown prowess, and I think that’s what he’ll need. Skjei reminds me of another pair of strong skating, puck-moving defensemen prone to some defensive lapses the Canes have had in Joni Pitkanen and Noah Hanifin. As long as he has the proper partner (which may not be possible in this series), I think he’s a good fit.

3. Just how much better are the Hurricanes with Dougie Hamilton in the lineup?

Good timing. Hamilton left practice in pain Wednesday and was not on the ice Thursday. Given the NHL’s new injury protocols, all Rod Brind’Amour could say was that Hamilton was “unfit to play” and he hopes it’s not long term.

So, the assumption that the Canes would be getting back a healthy Hamilton for this series could be in doubt. And that would be a massive blow. Hamilton might be the best offensive defenseman this team has ever had. At the time of his injury, he was firmly in the Norris conversation, with 14 goals and 40 points (fourth in the league among defensemen at the time).

His ability to dominate in all situations, turn the power play from a weakness to a strength and quarterback the offense really took the Canes to a new level. Carolina’s PHWA Chapter voted Sebastian Aho the team’s MVP this week, a nod I agree with given how the season played out. However, had Hamilton finished the regular season, I think that’s at least a much tougher choice. The importance of having Hamilton in the lineup for the Canes cannot be overstated.

4. How did the Hurricanes manage to out-shoot their opponents all season long?

This has been a trend for years now. Under Rod Brind’Amour, the Canes’ play a high-tempo, puck-possession, attacking system. They’re blessed with defensemen the likes of Hamilton, Slavin, Pesce (when healthy) and now Skjei who are strong puck moves and puck possession players. They also, between Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas and now Vincent Trocheck, ice a low-key loaded forward group that can dominate puck possession and generate waves of shots and scoring chances.

I’ve mentioned puck possession a few times, and that’s the biggest key here. Between the aforementioned top forwards and defensemen, and other players who don’t produce as much but are still great possession players, such as Jordan Staal, the Canes are one of the best possession teams in the league, with a 54.3 Corsi-for percentage this season. This might sound overly simplistic, but when you have the puck a lot, you’re going to shoot the puck a lot.

5. Give us five Canes-centric Twitter accounts that are must-follows for Rangers fans for this series!

I’m going to take a page out of your book, cheat, and give you the @CanesCountry staff: