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Carolina Hurricanes vs. Florida Panthers Series Preview: Defensemen, Penalty Kill

The Eastern Conference Finals will feature the Hurricanes and Panthers, as Carolina will look to continue to ride the hot hands of its blue line to the Stanley Cup Finals.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

In just five games this time around, the Carolina Hurricanes toppled the New Jersey Devils in the second round to book a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in the last five years.

The Canes beat the Devils 3-2 in overtime last Thursday in game five, once again led by its defensemen to lead a charge. Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns scored in regulation of that game five, as Carolina finished the second round series with six goals in five games from defensemen.

Now the Hurricanes will meet up with the Florida Panthers with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals on the line, and the Canes will look to continue leaning on its blue line and depth scoring to get one step closer to the Cup.

Ahead of the Eastern Conference Finals, we’ll take a look again at how the Hurricanes and Panthers match up on the blue line and the penalty kill. We’ve done this for two series already, and again the Hurricanes’ regular season stats haven’t changed. You can check out that breakdown here, though we’ll include it in this story as well.

Here’s how Carolina and Florida match up defensively and on the penalty kill:


By the Numbers:

Defensive Stats

Stat Carolina Hurricanes Florida Panthers
Stat Carolina Hurricanes Florida Panthers
Goals Against 210 (2nd in NHL) 272 (21st in NHL)
GA/GP 2.56 (2nd) 3.32 (21st)
xGA/60 2.56 (1st) 3.42 (25th)
Unblocked Shot Attempts Against/GP 35.65 (1st) 43.57 (19th)
Shots on Goal Against/GP 26.0 (1st) 31.7 (22nd)
Goals from Defensemen 59 53
% of Team Goals from Defensemen 23% 18%
Points from Defensemen 195 204
% of Team Points from Defensemen 28% 27%

Defensemen Leaders

Defensemen Leaders

Category Carolina Hurricanes Florida Panthers
Category Carolina Hurricanes Florida Panthers
Goals Brent Burns, Brady Skjei (18) Brandon Montour (16)
Assists Brent Burns (43) Brandon Montour (57)
Points Brent Burns (61) Brandon Montour (73)
Hits Calvin de Haan (84) Radko Gudas (312)
Average TOI Brent Burns (23:13) Brandon Montour (24:08)
Plus/Minus Jalen Chatfield (+23) Gustav Forsling (19)

Playoff Leaders

Playoff Leaders

Category Carolina Hurricanes Florida Panthers
Category Carolina Hurricanes Florida Panthers
Goals Brent Burns, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin (2) Brandon Montour (6)
Assists Brent Burns (6) Aaron Ekblad (4)
Points Brent Burns (8) Brandon Montour (9)
Average TOI Brent Burns (23:55) Brandon Montour (25:56)
Plus/Minus Jaccob Slavin (+14) Gustav Forsling, Aaron Ekblad (+6)

Anticipated Pairings

Carolina Hurricanes

Jaccob Slavin - Brent Burns
Brady Skjei - Brett Pesce
Shayne Gostisbehere - Jalen Chatfield

Extra: Calvin de Haan, Dylan Coghlan

Florida Panthers

Gustav Forsling - Aaron Ekblad
Marc Staal - Brandon Montour
Josh Mahura - Radko Gudas

Extra: Casey Fitzgerald

The Breakdown

For the third straight series, the Hurricanes will match up with another team that got a heavy dose of blue line production in the regular season.

The Panthers certainly had their shortcomings defensively in stopping goals against, but as far as the offensive production from the defensive corps it’s another team that got a lot out of those guys on the blueline.

Again, here’s the regular season breakdown of what the Canes did on the blue line, copied from the the Islanders series preview:

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.

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 for.

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.

But now getting into the Panthers regular season, Florida was right there with the Canes when it came to offensive production from the defensemen.

The Forsling-Ekblad pairing was seventh in the NHL in expected goals for at 48.4, and that groupings 3.36 xGF/60 was just .02 behind the Canes’ top pair of Slavin-Burns and 16th in the NHL (minimum 200 minutes played).

The Panthers’ other two pairings were good there as well, with Staal-Montour (led by an insanely great season from Montour) were 12th with 41.8 expected goals for and Mahura-Gudas were 15th in the entire league with 40.7 expected goals for.

A lot of those numbers have just as much to do with just how much these pairings played together — all three of Florida’s pairings played more than 760 minutes together this season — but those second two pairings were also pretty strong in xGF/60 in the top 45 in the NHL in both.

However, where the Panthers defensive pairings were great offensively, they left a ton to be desired defensively.

In xGA/60 — where all three of the Canes’ pairings were top 27 in the NHL — two of the three Florida pairings were pretty bad. Mahura-Gudas were the best duo, with 2.09 xGA/60 the 15th best mark of pairings in the NHL with at least 200 minutes played, but neither of the other two units were in the top 125 of 171 pairings with 200 minutes played in the NHL. Staal-Montour (2.86) were 129th, while Forsling-Ekblad (2.97) were 139th.

Micah Black McCurdy, HockeyViz

But that was the regular season, of course.

So how have these two teams’ defensive pairings fared so far in the playoffs? To be honest, the Panthers have looked a little better at doing what they do.

With 3.47 xGF/60, the Slavin-Burns pairing is the fourth-best in the NHL this postseason. But then all three Florida pairings are better than the other two Canes’ duos, with Mahura-Gudas (2.83) 12th, Forsling-Ekblad (2.61) 17th and Staal-Montour (2.58) 19th. For the Canes, Skjei-Pesce (2.26) is 27th with Gostisbehere-Chatfield (2.25) 28th.

On the xGA/60, they stack up like this:

  • Gostisbehere-Chatfield, 2.21 xGA/60, 13th
  • Mahura-Gudas, 2.23 xGA/60, 14th
  • Slavin-Burns, 2.37 xGA/60, 17th
  • Forsling-Ekblad, 2.61 xGA/60, 21st
  • Staal-Montour, 2.89 xGA/60, 27th
  • Skjei-Pesce, 3.04 xGA/60, 33rd

It should be another tough matchup for the Canes to limit the Panthers’ blue line production, but it should be another good one.

Penalty Kill

By the Numbers:

Penalty Kill

Stat Carolina Hurricanes Florida Panthers
Stat Carolina Hurricanes Florida Panthers
PP Goals Against 40 (T-3rd in NHL) 70 (29th in NHL)
Times Shorthanded 256 (14th Most in NHL) 291 (3rd Most in NHL)
PK% 84.4% (2nd) 76.0% (23rd)
PPGA/GP 0.49 (T-3rd) 0.85 (29th)
TS/GP 3.12 (14th Most) 3.55 (3rd Most)
Shorthanded TOI/GP 5:16 (9th Most) 5.44 (4th Most)
Shorthanded Goals For 11 (4th) 6 (24th)

Playoff Penalty Kills:

Carolina Hurricanes: 90% (1st)

Florida Panthers: 65.8% (13th)

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 Burns — 2:05
  • Jordan Martinook — 2:00

Florida Panthers

  • Gustav Forsling — 2:58
  • Aaron Ekblad — 2:47
  • Marc Staal — 2:33
  • Radko Gudas — 2:30
  • Eric Staal — 2:29
  • Eetu Lusostarinen — 2:20

Shorthanded Goal Scorers:

Carolina Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho (3), Teuvo Teravainen (2), Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Seth Jarvis, Brady Skjei, Jordan Staal, Jordan Martinook, Jalen Chatfield (1)

Carolina Hurricanes (Playoffs): Jordan Martinook, Seth Jarvis, Jordan Staal, Jesper Fast (1)

Florida Panthers: Anton Lundell (2), Eric Staal (2), Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad (1)

Florida Panthers (Playoffs): Gustav Forsling (1)

The Breakdown

In the penalty kill department, major advantage to the Hurricanes.

The Canes boasted one of the best penalty kills in the league in the regular season, and it’s only gotten better so far in the playoffs.

In 11 games, the Hurricanes have given up just three power play goals on 30 power play opportunities for opponents. New Jersey scored one power play goal in game three and one in game five after the Islanders mustered just one in the opening series.

The Panthers have allowed 13 power play goals against on 38 opponent opportunities so far in the postseason, though the penalty kill was a lot better against the Maple Leafs in the second round after giving up a lot against the league-best power play of the Bruins. In five games against Toronto, the Maple Leafs managed just two power play goals during 11 opportunities.

Micah Black McCurdy, HockeyViz

Again, for the Hurricanes this is a major, major advantage in this series. The Panthers take a ton of penalties, and they aren’t necessarily great at killing them off.

So Carolina’s blueline is once again projected to be a big difference maker for the team. While Florida can match up offensively with the defensive production, they pale in comparison to the overall defensive game.

But stakes do rise this late into a season and as last round showed, the Cats have been able to get more out of their corp than in the regular season.

Only time will tell what the Eastern Conference Final will hold for us, but the matchup is prepped to be one to remember.