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Carolina Hurricanes vs. New York Islanders Series Preview: Defensemen, Penalty Kill

This series isn’t gonna have a ton of goals, huh?

Carolina Hurricanes v New York Islanders Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes are back in the playoffs for the fifth straight year, and for the third straight year are in the mix as a division champion.

Last year, the Canes opened the postseason with a series win in seven games over the Boston Bruins before losing in game seven against the New York Rangers in the second round. Now in 2023, Carolina will open things up against the New York Islanders, who the Canes swept in the second round back in 2019.

As the Canes and Islanders get set to get going underway Monday night in PNC Arena, we’re taking a look here at how the teams stack up against each other on the blue line and on the penalty kill.

Starting with the defensemen, here’s a look at the matchup:


By The Numbers:

Defensive Stats

Stat Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders
Stat Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders
Goals Against 210 (2nd in NHL) 217 (5th in NHL)
GA/GP 2.56 (2nd) 2.65 (5th)
xGA/60 2.56 (1st) 3.11 (16th)
Unblocked Shot Attempts Against/GP 35.65 (1st) 44.12 (21st)
Shots on Goal Against/GP 26.0 (1st) 31.0 (15th)
Goals from Defensemen 59 41
% of Team Goals from Defensemen 23% 17%
Points from Defensemen 195 172
% of Team Points from Defensemen 28% 27%

Team Leaders (Among Defensemen);

Defensemen Leaders

Category Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders
Category Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders
Goals Brent Burns, Brady Skjei (18) Noah Dobson (13)
Assists Brent Burns (43) Noah Dobson (36)
Points Brent Burns (61) Noah Dobson (49)
Hits Calvin de Haan (84) Alexander Romanov (198)
Average TOI Brent Burns (23:13) Adam Pelech (21:39)
Plus/Minus Jalen Chatfield (+23) Adam Pelech (+15)

Anticipated Pairings

Carolina Hurricanes

Jaccob Slavin - Brent Burns

Brady Skjei - Brett Pesce

Shayne Gostisbehere - Jalen Chatfield

Extra: Calvin de Haan

New York Islanders

Adam Pelech - Ryan Pulock

Sebastian Aho - Scott Mayfield

Samuel Bolduc - Noah Dobson

Extra: Alexander Romanov*

*Alexander Romanov is currently dealing with an upper-body injury and has been ruled out for at least game one. Looks like Aho has been playing with Mayfield, with Bolduc paired with Dobson in his absence

The Breakdown

For both the Hurricanes and the Islanders, defense has reigned supreme this year. No team in the NHL has leaned heavier on its blue liners to produce on both sides of the ice than the Hurricanes so far this year, but the Islanders aren’t too far behind.

From the blue line standpoint, the Hurricanes have been one of the best teams in the league all season long. The Canes’ have gotten an insane load of goals from defensemen, with both Brent Burns AND Brady Skjei tying a team record with 18 goals in the regular season.

Beyond just the offensive production, the Canes rank second in the NHL in goals against per game, first in xGA/60, first in unblocked shots against and first in shots on goal against. Simply put, the Hurricanes have had the best defensive corps in the NHL this year.

Though as strong as the Canes are across the board on the blueline, most of those things have also been a strength for the Islanders, who ranked fifth in the NHL in goals against.

Now, New York falls back to the middle of the pack in the xGA/60 and shots against numbers — which would suggest that Ilya Sorokin had more to do with the pure goals against numbers than the blue liners — but this Islanders team is still staunch and tough to get things going against in its own end.

Looking into the actual pairings, there weren’t many duos in the NHL better than both of Carolina’s top two defensive pairs. In expected goals for (minimum 200 minutes played together), the Slavin-Burns duo was best in the NHL at 67.2% expected goals.

So who was number 2?

That’d be Skjei and Pesce at 65.2%.

It’s not just the scoring ability that jumps out though. When looking at expected goals against per 60 minutes (again, minimum 200 minutes played together), the best pairing in the league was Gostisbehere and Chatfield with just 1.46 xGA/60. In that category, Slavin-Burns were 16th best among 171 qualified pairings at 2.1 xGA/60, while Skjei and Pesce were 27th at 2.24 xGA/60.

For the Islanders pairings, the duo of Aho and Mayfield were third-best in xGA/60 (1.73), with Pelech and Pulock at 115th. Romanov and Mayfield were 156th. On the scoring side, no Islanders pairing was top 30 in either expected goals or xGF/60.

The Islanders blue line is good, but the Canes have a clear, clear advantage (and will against pretty much anyone they play). Carolina has also benefited greatly by having pairs that have played a ton of hockey together at this point. Skjei and Pesce have been together for years now of course, but Slavin and Burns have spent the entire season together and Chatfield has been with Gostisbehere consistently since the latter joined the team at the trade deadline.

The Canes are absolutely going to need their blue liners to do exactly what they did in the regular season this series.

Penalty Kill

By The Numbers:

Penalty Kill Stats

Stat Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders
Stat Carolina Hurricanes New York Islanders
PP Goals Against 40 (T-3rd in NHL) 39 (2nd in NHL)
Times Shorthanded 256 (14th Most in NHL) 219 (30th Most in NHL)
PK% 84.4% (2nd) 82.2% (9th)
PPGA/GP 0.49 (T-3rd) 0.48 (2nd)
TS/GP 3.12 (14th Most) 2.67 (30th Most)
Shorthanded TOI/GP 5:16 (9th Most) 4:31 (27th Most)
Shorthanded Goals For 11 (4th) 6 (25th)

Most-Frequent Penalty Killers:

Carolina Hurricanes

  • Jaccob Slavin — 2:42 (Average Shorthanded Time on Ice)
  • Brett Pesce — 2:24
  • Jordan Staal — 2:21
  • Brady Skjei — 2:18
  • Brent Bunrs — 2:05
  • Jordan Martinook — 2:00

New York Islanders

  • Scott Mayfield — 2:41
  • Adam Pelech — 2:31
  • Alexander Romanov — 2:01
  • Jean-Gabriel Pageau — 1:56
  • Casey Cizikas — 1:52
  • Zach Parise — 1:46

Shorthanded Goal Scorers:

Carolina Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho (3), Teuvo Teravainen (2), Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Seth Jarvis, Brady Skjei, Jordan Staal, Jordan Martinook, Jalen Chatfield

New York Islanders: Jean-Gabriel Pageau (3), Zach Parise (2), Bo Horvat

The Breakdown

If this series goes to seven games, I think the over/under on power play goals in the series would be about 3.5.

Simply put, don’t expect to see may power play goals at all in this one. The Canes and Islanders both boast top-10 penalty kills in the NHL, as both teams have done an exceptional job when down a man this year of keeping the puck out of the net.

And on the flipside of that, the Hurricanes power play is 20th in the NHL at 19.8%, a constant point of complaint from Canes fans (and us here at this website, alike). And boy if you thought Carolina’s power play was bad, New York’s is an abysmal 15.8%. The only two teams worse than the Islanders on the power play this year were the Ducks and the Flyers, which is pretty atrocious company to keep.

And looking at the penalty kills here, both of these teams just simply don’t let penalties and power play goals against beat them. If there’s a big edge between these two teams here it’s that, while the Canes PK was a bit better, the Islanders take a lot fewer penalties than the Canes do. So, that feels like almost a wash.

Wrapping up, the Canes are better at scoring shorthanded goals, though it’s not like those numbers matter in a seven-game series. Still, Sebastian Aho (Carolina’s Version) is one of the league’s best shorthanded goal scorer, so it’s at least worth noting.