The Rangers and Hurricanes play-in series is a go! There was a lot of cautious optimism surrounding the NHL playoffs and with good reason. But the teams, and players, took the COVID concerns seriously and buckled down in their bubbles. The latest report was, of the 4,256 tests between July 18th – 25th, there were zero reported positive cases.
Who would have thought that the NHL would be the league that handled something the best? There are still some concerns, but the NHL has done everything right so far. Hopefully, they can keep this positive momentum rolling for the duration of the playoffs.
The Season Series
The Rangers and Hurricanes met four times in this shortened season, with the Rangers coming out victorious all four times. This was despite the Hurricane’s best efforts; they outshot the Rangers 161 to 104. Unfortunately for Carolina, the Rangers’ goalies were up to the challenge. The three games that Henrik Lundqvist was in net, he saw 132 shots on goal. Lundqvist was able to stop 125 of them for a .947% save percentage. Igor Shesterkin got the nod for the final matchup and stopped 27 of 29 shots for a .931% save percentage.
On the other side, the Hurricanes’ goalies were not nearly as successful. Posting a team save percentage of .837% in the four games, Carolina struggled mightily. Petr Mrazek only faced 78 shots in his three games and stopped 68 of them for a .872% save percentage. James Reimer‘s game wasn’t any better. He faced 24 shots and stopped 19 for a .792% save percentage. Though the Rangers swept the season series, giving up more than 40 shots on goal per game is concerning.
In the final 10 games leading up to the hiatus, Carolina was 5-4-1. Though they closed things out on a 3 game winning streak, the Hurricanes could use help going into the proposed playoffs. Help could be on the way! The Hurricanes should be seeing key members return from the injured reserve, most notably defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton was on fire before fracturing his fibula in January. At the time of his injury, Hamilton’s rankings among defensemen:
- First in Shots On Goal – 170
- First in Even Strength Goals – 12
- Second in Total Goals – 14
- Third in Even Strength Points – 27
- Fourth in Total Points – 40
The Hurricanes could also see the return of Sami Vatanen and Ryan Dzingel. Their defensive crew getting a boost and adding forward depth could be the shot in the arm the Hurricanes need. Also returning will be back up goalie, James Reimer. Although he had a terrible outing against the Rangers, Reimer had a solid year otherwise. He had a 14-6-2 record with a 2.66 GAA and a .914 save percentage.
The top six should be set in stone, the bottom six could be more fluid. Here is a look at what they could be rolling with going into the playoffs.
The defensive pairs are a bit tougher to predict. With Hamilton’s latest injury concern, the defensive pairs could look vastly different. Until we get the final word on it, he will stay in the line predictions.
New York Rangers
In their last 10 games, the Rangers were also 5-4-1 and like the Hurricanes, they could use some relief in players coming back from injuries. The biggest return will be Chris Kreider. Getting the top line back together is key for the success of the team. The one big missing piece: Brendan Lemieux. He was assessed a two-minute minor for interference on Joonas Donskoi. When Donskoi didn’t return to the game, and after additional looks at the hit, Lemieux had a hearing with NHL Player Safety ending in a nonspecific suspension. It was finally announced on July 20th, that Lemiuex would be suspended the first two games of the play-in round.
With Kreider returning, the top six should look the same as it has most of the season. With Lemieux missing two games, he will be left out of line combinations. He would slot back into the third line when he returns. Until then, coach David Quinn could be switching it up regularly.
The defense should look the same as it did closing out the season. Using Dobber’s Frozen Tools, over the last 10 games the pairs should look familiar. How they actually shake out in usage is still up in the air, but these could be the pairings we will see.
The Winner: New York Rangers
It’s tough to overlook the success that the New York Rangers had over the Carolina Hurricanes this season. An interesting note is that Dougie Hamilton only missed one of the four matchups this year. That impact was seen in the heavy shot totals racked up in the three games he played. Sustaining a .930 save percentage, or higher, over a five-game series will be tough. To keep a first-round victory in their sights, the Rangers need to keep the shots against down. Giving up 40+ shots on the regular doesn’t bring success.
The Rangers and Hurricanes have been close in most team statistical categories this season.
- Powerplay Success % – NYR 22.9% / CAR 22.3%
- Goals For Per Game – NYR 3.33 / CAR 3.19
- Goals Allowed Per Game – NYR 3.14 / CAR 2.84
- Shots Per Game – NYR 31.1 / CAR 33.3
- Shots Allowed Per Game – NYR 34 / CAR 29.3
Even with these stats, I believe the New York Rangers would come out victorious in this first-round matchup. The edge in the top six battle leans in favor of the Rangers. I like the top six in NY over the top 6 in Carolina. I don’t think the return of Dougie Hamilton to the Hurricane defensive crew will be enough to put them over the top, with how well Adam Fox, Tony DeAngelo, and Ryan Lindgren have played towards the end of the season.
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