The Rangers meet the Hurricanes in Game 1 of their play-in round Saturday at 12 noon. New York finished the regular season 37-28-5 for 79 points and fell 2-1 to the Islanders in their exhibition game. Carolina went 38-25-5 for 81 points and lost 3-2 to the Capitals in their exhibitiongame. The rebuild takes the next step forward Saturday. If New York wins, they advance to the "playoffs," if they lose, they have a one in eight shot at Alexis Lafrenière. I posted my goalies
, special teams
previews over the past week.
Rangers' play-in round schedule
A small Game 1 primer:
Carolina went with the following lineup against Washington on Wednesday. This is likely who they will dress and the lines versus the Rangers. Maybe some mixing of the forwards, but these are the likely 12 active up front as well as the three blue line pairings with Petr Mrazek in net.
The above presumes Dougie Hamilton is out.
If he comes back, look for Jake Gardiner to sit. Even if Hamilton is unable to play, it's possible Hyden Fleury replaces Gardiner, or possibly, Trevor van Riemsdyk. Up front, if Martin Necas can play, look for him to slide in for Ryan Dzingel, though Dzingel did have a solid game versus Washington.
12 forwards, with Brendan Lemiuex suspended the first two games, and six blueliners, presuming Marc Staal's injury truly was minor, if not, Libor Hajek will start, are locked. We have discussed a few times that Kappo Kakko could move up to the second line with Jesper Fast, the defensive ballast on that line, sliding down. In addition, Julien Gauthier might move up a line with PDG, who played a strong game against the Islanders ,moving down. The question is who will be in net? Does coach David Quinn go with experience and history and start Henrik Lundqvist or go with the netminder who became the #1 after his promotion, who is the better puck handler helping alleviate pressure on the defense, in Igor Shesterkin? My head says Igor, my gut says Hank.
Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich
Artemiy Panarin-Ryan Strome-Jesper Fast
Phil Di Giuseppe-Filip Chytil-Kappo Kakko
Brett Howden-Greg McKegg-Julien Gauthier
Brendan Smith-Jacob Trouba
Adam Fox-Ryan Lindgren
Marc Staal-Anthony DeAngelo
Update at 1:30 on July 31:
Staal will play Saturday. More concerning is that ADA did not practice today and is a game-time decision tomorrrow. If he doesn't go, Hajek will likely play with Staal with Fox moving up to the first power-play unit and Gauthier possibly on the second unit, if NYR go four forwards and one blueliner. If pairing Hajek with Trouba, then Fox-Lindgren needs to match up as much as possible against the Svechnikov-Aho-Teravainen line. Goalie to be announced pre-game, so we have to wait one more day.
Special teams units:
PP1: Artemi Panarin-Mika Zibanejad-Chris Kreider-Ryan Strome-Tony DeAngelo
PP2: Pavel Buchnevich-Filip Chytil-Kaapo Kakko-Adam Fox-Jacob Trouba
PK1: Zibanejad-Fast, Staal-Smith
PK2: Strome-Howden, Lindgren-Trouba
PP1: Sebastian Aho-Teuvo Teravainen-Andrei Svechnikov-Jaccob Slavin-Justin Williams
PP2: Nino Neiderreiter-Vincent Trocheck-Jordan Staal-Sami Vatanen-Jake Gardiner
PK1: Staal-Brock McGinn, Slavin-Vatanen
PK2: Aho-Teravainen, Skjei-Joel Edmundson
Keys to Game 1 and potentially the series:
1) Get Zib and Panarin going.
Zibanejad ended the regular season on fire with 11 goals his last six goals, giving the Swede 41 goals and 75 points in just 57 games on the year. Panarin, though, had slowed with an eight-game goalless streak to conclude his regular season, but ended his first year in New York with 32 goals and 63 assists. Both were invisible against the Islanders and Panarin has not had a good training camp. For the Rangers to have a shot, both players need to be at the top of their game. If that happens, Carolina can't key on one line, but has to spread their concern to both, forcing coach Rod Brind'Amour to decide against whom he matches Jaccob Slavin and Sami Vatanen.
2) Production from the bottom six:
New York has a wide gap in production between the top and bottom six. In fast, the gulf may be the widest in the league. If there is a silver lining, it's that both Filip Chytil and Kakko appear to have put the time off to good use and looked refreshed and active against the Islanders. Getting scoring, or at a minimum, the third and/or fourth line controlling play and making the 'Canes defense work, would aid New York's cause immensely. If PDG and Greg McKegg can be the physical presence we saw late, this takes some pressure off the top-six to be on the ice all the time. This is where Julien Gauthier can play a big role, as he has the skills to produce up front.
3) Win the special teams battle.
As I wrote in my special teams analysis blog: Carolina has been strong shorthanded, finishing fourth in the league with an 84.0% kill success rate, so if that unit can negate New York’s seventh rated 22.9% group, the burden shifts to the Blueshirts PK (23rd in league at 77.4%) to return the favor against a group that finished just behind New York at 22.3%, eighth in the league
The Rangers top unit power play can be extremely dangerous, especially with Chris Kreider, back from his injury, in front of the net. But the Hurricanes are solid on the PK and can score short handed, thanks to Aho and Teravainen. For New York to win, they need to produce on the man-advantage, which offsets the 'Canes blueline advantage.
4) Make someone other than the top line beat you.
Svechnikov- Aho- Teravainen is a formidable trio. While Bredna Smith and Jacob Trouba did a fine job against Lee-Barzal-Eberle, that duo takes a step up in class against this line. To shut them down, which is unlikely, or better yet, contain them somewhat, it will need to be a complete effort, meaning the forwards must also do their job. Make Carolina get secondary scoring to win. They have talent, especially if Vincent Trocheck plays well, but I will take my chances having their second to fourth lines try and win contests rather than their elite top trio.
As a reminder, I am out pocket this evening until late Saturday evening. I will update the blog if any new information breaks or is revealed today. My recap blog will be posted either very late Saturday night or more likely Sunday am.