In the first round, we pointed out how the Carolina Hurricanes had a marked advantage in goal over the Boston Bruins. That mostly held up, with the Hurricanes scoring 21 goals on an expected-goals number of 21.1 at 5-on-5, and the Bruins scoring 18 (on the same exact expected goals number, oddly enough).
Jeremy Swayman was a bit better than advertised, Antti Raanta saved the day a couple of times, and as expected, the true challenge for the Hurricanes was breaking through the Bruins’ defense to get a shot on net. Once they did so, good things happened.
That...won’t be the case this round.
Igor Shesterkin might win the Hart Trophy, and if he does, it would be the first such honor for a goaltender since Jose Theodore won it 20 years ago (coincidentally, in a season where his team was eliminated by the Hurricanes). He’s essentially a shoo-in for the Vezina; I mean, if Freddie Andersen can't even be named as a finalist, sincere apologies to Jacob Markstrom and Juuse Saros, but they ain’t winning.
And when your shot chart looks like this, it’s little wonder:
We’d all better do one of those summoning circle things for Jaccob Slavin and Brady Skjei, because shots from the left point are going to be of significant importance in this series, it appears.
Shesterkin was absolutely hung out to dry in the first round against the Penguins. In seven games, he saved six goals above expected, and yet it still took to overtime of Game 7 for the Rangers to advance. The Penguins took almost a hundred more unblocked shots against Shesterkin in the first round than the Bruins did against Raanta (and Kochetkov). Yes, one of those games went to triple overtime, but - say it again - the Rangers were down 3-1 and facing Louis Domingue for the vast majority of the series.
Shesterkin is elite, and how fortunate are the Rangers that they basically had a seamless transition from Henrik Lundqvist, a top-five goalie in his own right, to Shesterkin without skipping a beat?
The Hurricanes have more well-distributed firepower than the Penguins, and there’s every reason to think that they will have more success breaking through a Rangers defensive setup that is notably less intimidating than the Bruins’. But none of that matters much if you can’t get past the last line of defense, and the Rangers’ is second to none in that category.
Before you ask, no, I have no idea when Andersen is coming back, and neither do you. I’m operating on the assumption that the crease belongs to Raanta until further notice.
The good news is that Raanta was really good when called upon in the first round. He improved everywhere on the ice from his shot chart in the regular season, with one exception. This chart doesn’t separate Raanta out from Kochetkov, but since Raanta played the majority of minutes, this is a good indicator of his play in the first round:
That goal-line spot to Raanta’s left is a little concerning, given that he was pretty strong against those types of shots during the season, but then again the Bruins made it very obvious that their game plan was predicated on crashing the net and creating chaos. You’d probably like to see Raanta a little tighter in the slot, but that’s picking nits: the Bruins are great at playing heavy in front of the net, and it’s a matter of how much you can mitigate that.
The Rangers, meanwhile, are a much more perimeter-oriented team. Chris Kreider scored a bajillion goals this year from the front of the net, but other than him the Rangers don’t have much in terms of a down-low game:
The red spots near the goal are almost entirely courtesy of Kreider and Artemi Panarin. There is no question that the two of them will be the Hurricanes’ toughest test in this round, and Raanta will need to be on his game given where his weaknesses lay in the first round.
This series will be the opposite of the Bruins series in that the Hurricanes enter at a decisive disadvantage in net. Shesterkin essentially dragged the Rangers into the second round on his back, and he’s fully capable of continuing to pull them even further on into the conference final. The Hurricanes are stronger on both offense and defense than the Penguins, though, which means that this series should be a real treat as we watch a best-on-best matchup of a top-tier offensive attack going up against the NHL’s top netminder.