Sometime closer to the start of the playoff series, I will write an article or two that goes into a bit more depth on the Canes versus Rangers series.
But today’s Daily Cup of Joe jumps the gun a bit and offers a few quick hitters on matching up with the Rangers.
Who pressures whom?
The Rangers ice a young team that has the ability to play uptempo hockey and attack quickly if given time. The series could turn on who pressures whom. Can the Hurricanes refind their overwhelming forecheck that was the team’s bread and butter during its success in the latter half of the 2018-19 season and the 2019 NHL Playoffs? That forecheck was not a regular ingredient in 2019-20. If the Hurricanes can do that, perhaps the young Rangers blue liners will wilt under the pressure. But if the Rangers can quickly navigate their way past the first line or two of defense, the Rangers youth and skill can really put pressure on a Canes back end that can have some holes in terms of sorting things out under duress. Who wins this battle could very well win the series.
The mental part of the goaltending battle
Arguably, the single biggest factor in the regular season series was goaltending. The Hurricanes netminders were generally decent or better in total during the season but for whatever reason fell a bit flat against Rangers. And the Rangers goalies were outstanding. While I do think it is fair to say that the Rangers have an edge in net, I think the bigger thing could be the mental part of it. If/when a team reaches a point where it feels impossible to beat a goalie, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy largely because the team just gets too cute, plays out of character or goes into ‘try to beat the goalie’ mode instead of making smart plays and creating a mess at the top of the crease.
The runner up (and other case for being the lead story) was the production of the Rangers top players. The Hurricanes had no answer or Artemi Panarin. He has the potential to be a player who takes over a series. How the series goes could have a lot to do with if/how well the Hurricanes can keep the Bread Man in check.
The Hurricanes lost the special teams battle in the regular season series by a wide margin. The Rangers boast some high-end skill on the power play. It is just a hunch, but I think when teams try to go from not playing at all for four months to trying to dial up to playoff speed with no ramp to get there that the result could be some sloppiness that includes a few more coverage ‘oops’ type obstruction penalties. If that proves to be true, can the Hurricanes match the Rangers on special teams?
My 2 cents
My first point about who pressures whom is what I will be watching most closely out of the gate. The Rangers youth could be vulnerable if the Canes can find the peak 2018-19 forecheck. But if that fails, I think that the Canes minus Pesce just are not as solid defensively such that the Rangers will create problems if given the ability to attack with speed, time and space.
I also think holding the Rangers top players in check will be critical. By no means do the Hurricanes need to shut out talented players like Panarin and Zibanejad, but at the same time they must be slowed. When the Hurricanes had no answer for Bergeron and company in the Eastern Conference Finals last spring, that series got away quickly. I see the Rangers series as having that same potential.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of my quick thoughts do you see as most critical to the series? Are there any that you disagree with?
2) What are your quick hitters for thinking about the series from the Rangers’ side of things?
3) What are your thoughts on the Canes forecheck? Do you think rested legs and playoff hockey will help the Canes refind the higher gear from last spring?