If you are just getting back into the swing of things for Canes hockey with the start of the playoffs now only five days away, you can always catch up on recent coverage by checking out the chronological list of articles HERE.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe continues on the playoff theme and identifies three players who I think are most critical to the Carolina Hurricanes’ playoff success.
In his first NHL playoffs, Sebastian Aho was productive and good. But in both the Capitals series and the Bruins series that ushered the Canes out of the playoffs, the other teams’ best players were better than Aho and his line. In the NHL, depth and balance matters, but at the same time playoff series are very often decided by which team’s best players are best in the series. Because of that, the playoffs are often players climb the last notch on the ladder going from being very good to elite. In his second playoffs, I think one of the areas for upside for the Canes is if Aho’s line which is currently loaded with talent with Teravainen and Svechnikov joining him can go from being capable of holding its own against the NHL’s best to bettering them. If Aho and his line can make that leap, I think they could carry the team deep into the playoffs.
Goaltending can often be a bit erratic early in the season when goalies are trying to find a rhythm and consistency. With the four-month layoff, the restart could be very much like early season hockey for many players but with much higher stakes. Teams whose goalies can parachute directly into playoff hockey and be up to speed will have a decided advantage in the playoffs, and I fully expect that a team or two will be eliminated largely because their goalie(s) cannot find top gear quickly enough. As such, I think Petr Mrazek and his ability to hit the ground running will play a critical role in the Canes’ playoff success. With James Reimer likely to play one of the games in the back-to-back set for games two and three, he is also eligible to be the hot goalie that the Canes need even though Mrazek will likely get first shot.
In maybe taking Jaccob Slavin for granted a bit because of his steadiness, I think Sami Vatanen could be the key to the blue line. With Pesce on the roster (though not in Toronto yet) but not likely to help until the second half of the playoffs, Vatanen could be key to making the Canes’ second defense pairing steady and reliable. The other players likely to (Brady Skjei and Jake Gardiner) can be a bit erratic. Gardiner struggled early in the season though was better toward the end of the abbreviated 2019-20 season. And my first impression of Skjei was meh or eh. The mobility and physical skill set is clearly there, but his attention to detail can be lacking at times. But either Skjei or Gardiner bring upside offensive and in terms of advancing the puck and helping the Canes attack in transition. So if Vatanen can mesh with one of those two, help them play to their upside potential and maybe help tidy things up a bit defensively, the Canes become a solid and deep team defensively on the back end. If instead he and/or his partner struggle, it becomes difficult for Brind’Amour hide holes against playoff caliber hockey teams.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you agree/disagree with any of my three keys for the Canes’ playoff success?
2) If you had to pick three and only three Canes players who are most critical to the team’s playoff success, who would they be and why?