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Systems Analyst: What’s Gone Wrong Against the Rangers

Carolina was winless in four regular season meetings against their qualifying round opponent.

NHL: New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes lost all four regular season meetings to the New York Rangers. Anyone who has read or listened to the various preview pieces for the qualifying round has likely been hit over the head with this information more times than should be legal. And while four games is a measly sample size to base predictions in future contests, the fact remains that the Hurricanes have yet to beat New York this season.

So where did it all go wrong for Carolina in the regular season? And how can the Canes avoid the same fate in the qualifying round?

As was detailed last week, special teams play had a big role in dooming the Hurricanes’ fate. But the Hurricanes’ sloppiness also did them in.

Ill advised pinches from the point, led to several Ranger chances and, in the case of this Joel Edmundson pinch shown below, a goal.

Edmundson, and the Hurricanes’ defense as a whole, must be more careful and selective about when they pinch, especially when New York’s top talent is on the ice. That responsibility does not just fall on the defensemen. In order to allow the D to pinch, there must be at least one forward high in the zone to cover for the pinching defenseman.

In the clip below, Jordan Staal covers for the pinching Jaccob Slavin nicely, but when the puck works back to Staal, the center gives Mika Zibanejad a breakaway.

Staal clearly is not in the most comfortable spot, playing out of position, and panics a bit trying to find a shooting lane. Trevor van Riemsdyk would have been better off sliding to the middle of the ice and taking a half step outside of the blue line to protect against a quick Staal turnover. The Hurricanes like to have a defenseman on either wall when they have possession in-zone, but with a forward at the point, Carolina needs to have the situational awareness to make subtle adjustments.

When the Hurricanes were actually able to set up and play defense in-zone, the Rangers took advantage of several minor mistakes. In the clip below, when the puck cycles behind the net Jordan Staal cuts the near side post, leaving his man, Ryan Strome, who has cut the far side post, open. Staal attempts to recover but that half step difference is enough for Strome to get a pass away.

Dougie Hamilton is in good position on Artemi Panarin, but doesn’t take his stick away and the Rangers’ leading scorer finishes.

Panarin is the Rangers’ best player by far and has made several very good defensemen, like Brett Pesce in the clip below, look foolish.

The dazzling Panarin pass is only possible because Joel Edmundson gets caught staring down the puck and Panarin and totally loses track of his man, the eventual goal scorer Ryan Strome.

Often when exiting the zone, the Hurricanes were too eager to get up ice and engage in the offensive attack.

In the clip below, four Carolina skaters get ahead of the puck in a race up the ice. An aggressive Jacob Trouba pinch keeps the puck in and creates a golden chance for the New York skaters behind the Canes’ defense.

Against a quick strike team like the Rangers, it can be appealing to try to match their aggressiveness and end-to-end action. But an end-to-end high scoring shootout suits New York far better than it does Carolina, a strong possession oriented team.

In New York, the Hurricanes cleared the puck with a stretch pass, but when it was eventually disrupted and turned the other way, the Canes were in trouble. The Canes’ aggressive pursuit up the ice allowed for a New York three-on-one to end up in the back of the net.

Part of the reason it seems the Rangers always have skaters behind the Hurricanes’ defense is because, as a whole, team defense has not exactly been a priority under David Quinn. The Rangers finished this seasons ranked 24th in goals against and 30th in shots allowed per game. Most advanced statistics rank their team defense as one of the worst in the league, despite getting top flight goaltending.

And it should be pointed out that the Hurricanes really dominated New York for large portions of play. Particularly, the Hurricanes should look to take advantage of the Rangers’ defense, by far the weakest part of their lineup, in the qualifying round. New York has some dynamic players on their back end, but few of them specialize, or even appear to particularly enjoy, playing in their own end.

In the clip below, Sebastian Aho hounds Jacob Trouba, steals the puck and then the Canes go to work.

After the turnover, the Rangers seem to run around without a real defensive plan, a theme of their defensive zone coverage on film. The Carolina forwards are easily able to find open space and generate high quality chances.

The New York defense particularly struggle when pressured and hit behind their own net. In the clip below, Ryan Dzingel and Martin Necas team up to create a turnover. Once again, the Rangers’ defense responds to the coverage rather poorly, and Necas should have an easy goal, if not for a miraculous save by Henrik Lundqvist.

Giveaways like these, especially behind the net, were commonplace in Ranger games this season.

Even in center ice, pressuring the Rangers’ back end consistently led to turnovers. In the clip below, a Marc Staal misplay springs a Carolina two-on-one.

When creating turnovers, the Hurricanes must counter attack quickly and take advantage of bang-bang plays and sudden changes of possession. Carolina will get plenty of chances thanks to the Rangers’ defense, but the Hurricanes will have to capitalize in order to make the giveaways matter.

Despite a better regular season record, the Hurricanes have been tabbed the underdog by many so-called experts due to the unimpressive season series results against the Rangers. But if the Hurricanes can limit their mistakes and pressure the unimpressive Ranger defense, their talent should prevail.