In what is joyfully becoming an annual event, CANES PLAYOFF HOCKEY STARTS TODAY!!!!!!!
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe attempts to boil the Canes versus Predators series down to a couple key points that will decide the first round playoff series.
1) Canes’ ability/willingness to play between the face-off circles and get to the front of the net
Despite losing the final two regular season match ups, I think the Hurricanes enter the series with significantly more advantages than disadvantages. On paper, that points to a series win. But then playoff series are not decided on paper and can be swayed by many things other than pre-series advantages. One area where the Predators could have an advantage is if Juuse Saros gets hot and steals a game or two. He did that down the stretch in the regular season and could be an X factor – but only if the Hurricanes make that possible by feeding him a heavy helping of savable shots. During the regular season, the Hurricanes did a good job of getting pucks and bodies to the front of the net. Doing so under a bit more duress in the playoffs will be critical to success in this round and others too. The Predators blue line is an interesting mix of skill at the top and big and nasty at the bottom. The Predators top 3 in Josi, Ekholm and Ellis are comparable to the Canes top three. Below that, the Predators blue line is a rugged group who will try to exact a toll from anyone who challenges for ice in front of the net.
To what degree Saros can be a factor will likely depend more on the Hurricanes ability to make his life difficult by getting players and pucks to the top of the crease and less on how well he plays.
2) The Canes scoring forwards
Again on paper, the Canes have significantly more offensive fire power at the forward position. It shows from taking a quick look at each team’s scoring leaders and it showed in most of the regular season head-to-head battles. If the Hurricanes can capitalize on that advantage, I think the Predators will have trouble keeping up offensively. This is not as much of a sure thing as some might think. Niederreiter has only 6 points in 22 playoff games in a Hurricanes uniform. Svechnikov and Necas have incredibly high ceilings but are still young and prone to lulls. If the Hurricanes scoring forwards fire on all, or even most cylinders, I think they are too much for the Predators. If on the other hand, the group is hit or miss without the regular season top to bottom scoring depth, then the series starts to look like a run of 2-2-ish type games that could be to the Predators’ advantage.
3) Special teams
Arguably the Hurricanes biggest advantage during the regular season series was special teams play. Stocked with higher-end talent, the Hurricanes enter the playoffs second and third in the entire NHL respectively for power play scoring and penalty kill efficiency. If the Hurricanes can carry the regular season advantage into the playoffs, the Predators will be hard-pressed to make up that deficit. If instead, the Predators can reverse the special teams the gap between the two teams shrinks and possibly even reverses. The Hurricanes power play stagnated a bit down the stretch. Hopefully a week of practice will sharpen things up again heading into the playoffs.
In any playoff series goaltending has the potential to be an X factor. The Hurricanes regular season netminding was outstanding. Juuse Saros was spectacular down the stretch. That would suggest an even match up where goals must earned. A significant fall off on either side could be a deciding factor. As noted above, this could be more a function of which team makes a more concerted effort to make the goalies’ lives difficult and shows a desire to score ugly goals.
What say you Canes fans?
1) If you had to pick one factor to decide the Canes versus Predators series, what would it be?
2) What other factors would you add to this list?