There is not necessarily a carry over from regular season to the playoffs, so any and all predictions based on regular season results are subject to be quickly overturned in the playoffs. But now approaching the midway point of the 2021-22 NHL season, we are reaching the point where many good teams have worked through any early kinks and are beginning to round into form for the stretch run and playoffs. As such, match ups against top teams this time of year can serve as decent measuring sticks for where the Carolina Hurricanes are in terms of also building toward peak form.
How the Hurricanes are faring in these measuring stick type games is the subject of today’s Daily Cup of Joe.
Florida Panthers — 4-3 overtime loss on January 8
The Panthers lost 5-1 to the Canucks on Tuesday night but still have a good claim to being the best team in the NHL right now. Since a COVID-induced break in late December and prior to Tuesday’s loss, the Panthers were 8-0-1 and had outscored opponents by a whopping 54-24 margin which makes for an average of six goals scored per game. The Hurricanes caught the Panthers in the second half of a back-to-back after a week layoff due to a COVID cancellation which was not ideal. The Hurricanes also had to start third goalie Alex Lyon. But with that less than perfect situation, the Hurricanes managed to push the game to overtime before losing 4-3. The Hurricanes started really slow but played their way back into the game as it progressed. I would give the edge to Florida in the game. The thing that stands out with Florida right now is how incredibly fast they are in transition which makes puck management critical especially at the two blue lines. The two teams have a cancelled game floating around that figures to be rescheduled in February when the NHL likely uses part of the original Olympic break to catch up.
Boston Bruins — 7-1 win on January 18
Following the ceremony to retire Willie O’Ree’s number 22, the Hurricanes stormed out of the gate in Boston and sprinted to five goals and a 5-1 lead after one period. The Hurricanes looked two steps faster to loose pucks, in transition and generally for everything else for the first period and were rewarded with a goal seemingly for every win in the first period. The Bruins did push back a bit in the second period but were unable to capitalize on the shift in momentum or a couple power play chances. The Hurricanes then tacked on two power play goals in the third period to finish with a touchdown and extra point in a resounding 7-1 win. As noted above, the carry over from regular season to playoffs is minimal if anything, but this thumping does have the potential to change the dynamics between the two teams. The Hurricanes already had a 3-0 victory to their credit which leaves the Bruins only a rescheduled game from December to try to pick up a regular season win against the Canes. While the playoffs are definitely a different animal, I do think a resounding regular season series win could provide a meaningful boost to the Canes’ confidence against a Bruins team that has twice served as a playoff roadblock.
New York Rangers — Up next on January 21
Up next as far as measuring stick games, is a Friday match up against the New York Rangers at PNC Arena. With Tuesday’s win the Hurricanes tied the Rangers for points in the standings, but actually have three games in hand too. But the Rangers are definitely an up-and-comer in the Central Division. Two years ago, the Rangers maybe rose up ahead of schedule in making the expanded playoffs and losing in the first round of the playoffs to a Hurricanes team that was clearly better. Then in 2020-21, the Rangers maybe disappointed in taking a step back. But the 2021-22 season seems to have the Rangers rising again. Led by former Canes prospect Adam Fox and an offense that boasts four players on target for 70ish points and current Vezina candidate Igor Shesterkin in net, it will be interesting to see how the Hurricanes measure up against the Rangers.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you make of the Canes 7-1 drubbing of the Bruins? Is it merely another example of the randomness of the long regular season? Or is it a sign that the Hurricanes are ready to finally climb past the Bruins if they see them again in the playoffs?
2) What do you make of the Panthers surge led by a go-go style of play and a ton of scoring? Are they just hot and benefitting from looser regular season play? Or can they carry their recent dominance into the playoffs making them a favorite in the Eastern Conference?
3) Of other top teams currently including, the Rangers, Lightning, Capitals, Maple Leafs and Penguins, which do you most fear/respect and why?