On Monday, I posted an article that looked back at the Carolina Hurricanes series win over the New York Islanders. That article which you can find HERE leads into this article which looks forward to the Hurricanes round 2 match up against the New Jersey Devils.
In short, I thought that the Islanders series went about as I expected. The Islanders play a style that leads to a low volume of scoring chances for both teams and a grinding style. That played into the Canes’ hands in that the Isles’ low-scoring ceiling is a match for a Canes team that similarly is a bit light on sources of offense. Sure enough, the Canes managed to make eight even strength goals be enough for four wins and a series victory.
A different challenge in the New Jersey Devils
Fast forward to the New Jersey series, and it figures to be a completely different challenge. The Devils’ strength is their ability to attack in waves with speed at forward and help from the back end. The team is deep with young scoring talent and capable of games that require reaching four goals. For being buttoned-down in general, the Isles series featured too many costly Canes puck management errors. If the Canes are sloppy moving the puck against the Devils, they will pay dearly against a team that can counterattack quickly. As long as the puck management is better, I like the Canes ability to defend a team like New Jersey whose strength is speed. Though the Hurricanes are thin at forward due to injuries, the blue line group that skates well continues to be a strength. Burns and the third pairing are potentially a bit more vulnerable, but they too have been playing well.
In the same vein, the Canes will need to generate more offense to prevail in the second round. At even strength in the first round, Sebastian Aho had 3 goals, and the deep depth came through in a huge way with 3 goals for Paul Stastny and a goal in a big road win for Mackenzie McEachern. Past that scoring was incredibly limited both in terms of results but equally importantly in terms of chances. None of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Martin Necas or Stefan Noesen scored at even strength. On Staal’s line, Jordan Martinook and Jordan Staal were goalless, and Jesper Fast had only the overtime game-winner. Seth Jarvis netted a goal at even strenght in addition to a power play marker, and Jaccob Slavin scored a goal. A low-scoring series, a couple clutch goals to convert overtimes to wins and a couple big games for the power play were enough to convert that to a series win, but the next round will take more. The Canes desperately need a couple X factors to emerge. An offensive surge by Necas and/or Kotkaniemi would be ideal, but a big game here or there by anyone could also puzzle piece together enough offense.
Goaltending and special teams always have the potential to be the difference-maker in an NHL playoff series, but past that I think the deciding factors will be a combination of two things. First, the Canes must play a clean series in terms of defending and managing the puck, especially at transition points, to force New Jersey to earn its offense. If the Canes are sloppy with the puck against the Devils, the games will quickly become an undermanned offense chasing games to four or more goals. That will end badly. Second, the Canes need to generate more offense. The blue line has potential here as does a good number of forward who were too quiet in the first round.
Other quick hitters
Frederik Andersen: After a long layoff and minimal practice, Andersen looked sharp in game 6 versus the Islanders. I would be surprised if Brind’Amour does not go right back to him to start the new series. This has the potential to bode well for the Canes if he can build off the good playoff start. Raanta played well enough to give the Canes a chance during the rest of the series and can be relied on, but I think Andersen’s ceiling is higher in terms of being capable of finding a hot stretch where he steals some games and even a series.
Paul Stastny: It will be interesting to see what Brind’Amour does with Aho’s line. Stastny is in the twilight of his career at 37 years old, but he is a hot hand right now and has a history as a scorer with some clutch playoff goals. Might Stastny benefit from seeing a few more scoring chances? With limited options, it might be worth a try. If not there, maybe Stastny can help spark the too quiet Necas/Kotkaniemi combination. More generally, the current roster is light on higher-end scorers. If Brind’Amour can pull a few levers to generate even small bursts of offense, it could go a long way toward giving the Canes a chance to win games without being perfect defensively.
Brent Burns: He collected five assists in six games in the first round but could have had a bunch more on the score sheet. In a series with limited openings for offense, Burns had a good scoring chance or two per game, a couple times walking to the front of the net and a couple other times stepping up into open space to receive and shoot. He seems due to net a goal or two.
Underdogs?: More so than many people realize, NHL playoff series are almost all 55/45 odds. The parity in the NHL is such that the smallest of things can swing any series. The alleged upsets in the first round are a testament to that. So in general, I do not get too bogged down in which team is better now, was better during the regular season or has an advantage. That said, I think it is fair to put the Canes as the 45 not the 55 in this series largely because of the lack of higher-end scoring in the top half of the forward group.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you think it is fair to cast the Hurricanes as slight underdogs in this series?
2) What do you see as the deciding factors in the series?