Other than being sloppy in taking too many unnecessary penalties, the Hurricanes start to the 2020 NHL Playoffs included large amounts of what the team would hope for. The team dictated play from the opening puck drop with a strong forecheck that has not really been consistent weapon during the 2019-20 season. The team won the battle of the stars with Aho’s line having a productive game. Mika Zibanejad did counter them, but Artemi Panarin was mostly a non-factor after being a deciding factor in the regular season match ups.
In short, the key ingredients were there which made for an encouraging start to the playoffs even beyond notching an all-important win.
The questions around game two on Monday, again at 12pm, focus on whether the Canes can build on the game one performance and if the Rangers can make adjustments.
Based on that, my watch points follow:
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New York Rangers
1) The forecheck
I am on record as saying that whoever won the forecheck would win the series. Even though the final score looked closer, the Canes dominant effort in that regard was definitely a key factor in Saturday’s win. That sets up two questions for Monday’s game. Can the Hurricanes repeat in terms of effort level and commitment? Can the Rangers make adjustments both in terms of exiting their own end successfully and also creating more duress with their own forecheck.
2) Cleaning up the sloppiness in terms of penalties
The one big negative in Saturday’s day game was the volume of unnecessary penalties taken by the Hurricanes, Brock McGinn picked up a very unnecessary (even if soft) slashing call poking at a Rangers player from behind when he was going 1-on-3 into the teeth of defensemen standing up. Andrei Svechnikov picked up two stick-related penalties. And the blue line that was generally pretty good added four penalties. Sami Vatanen had two to slightly taint an otherwise strong game. Haydn Fleury picked up an interference type penalty when he was beaten wide. And Joel Edmundson added a slashing penalty. The penalty kill was a perfect seven out of seven to play a critical role in the win. Especially if the forecheck helps tilt the ice again at even strength, best would be not to tempt fate again by taking a bunch of unnecessary penalties.
Brind’Amour might do a tiny bit of tinkering with the lineup to get a couple more players into the mix. Ryan Dzingel would be a candidate to start at forward and Trevor van Riemsdyk could draw in on defense. But as far as strategy, tactics and for the most part line and defense combinations, the Hurricanes will try to mostly repeat Saturday’s effort. The bigger question will be what the Rangers do to try to counter punch.
The puck drops at 12pm Eastern Time again. Hopefully everyone who works daytime hours managed to block a long lunch plus some for Canes hockey.