Heading into the Series
The series kicking off today will showcase two teams that are trending in different directions. The Red Wings arrive in Carolina to play the Hurricanes having lost five of their last six contests. The Hurricanes on the other hand have won five of their last six, and seven of their last nine. Incredibly enough, three of those victories were shutouts for Carolina. Four of those victories also saw the Hurricanes score four or more goals as well. The recent hot streak has resulted in Carolina sitting atop the Central Division standings with 57 points. They also have a game in hand over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and two games in hand over the Florida Panthers. In back-to-back series’, the Red Wings may be facing off against the two hottest teams in the league.
Sebastian Aho headlines the Carolina offense, but may still be underrated. His 37 points place him inside of the top 30 point-getters in the league. His surrounding cast is made up of players that have surprised. Vincent Trocheck and Martin Necas are scoring more than expected. Andrei Svechnikov will be a star for years to come, and Nino Neiderreiter at 28 years old is a solid power forward. If there is one thing that jumps off of the page in this forward group, it would be the depth at the center position. Trocheck, Necas, and Jordan Staal provide a far above-average center group. It should be no surprise with the names mentioned, and very good scoring defense (more on them later), that this Carolina team has the best powerplay in the league. Converting with the extra man 29.7% of the time is a full 2.6% more than the second-best powerplay. The offense of Carolina will challenge the Red Wings consistently through these two games.
After producing just one goal in seven out of their last nine games, the Red Wings are once again the most offensively impotent team. Bobby Ryan being ruled out for the rest of the season means things may not improve soon. He experienced an upper-body injury that he seemed to be nearing a return from, only to experience a setback. As the trade deadline approaches, there may be further vacancies to this group. The powerplay continues to struggle as well, converting just 11.9% of the time. As has been the case most of the season, this is good for second-worst in the National Hockey League. With the defense struggling recently as well, this group may have to take some chances to keep them competitive in the series.
Carolina’s defense may be the single best defensive group in the league. Dougie Hamilton is the alpha of this group. He plays a great defensive game while being the third-leading scorer on his team. This group also includes Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, and Brady Skjei in its top four. This group is big, mobile, and tough to play against. The Detroit Red Wings forwards will require quick puck movement to get them on their heels. This group does not give up much when down a man on the penalty-kill either. They are killing off penalties at an 83.2% rate, which has them in the top seven best. There is no other way to put it, this is an elite group.
This group for the Red Wings saw some attrition this week. Patrik Nemeth was traded back to Colorado for a fourth-round pick on Friday. Nemeth was a good depth player for the Red Wings but the return Steve Yzerman got back made it a no-brainer to move him. A fourth-round pick is another lottery ticket for the rebuilding Red Wings and a decent return for an aging defenseman. Consider that he is an unrestricted free agent after the season and it was an easy move to make. As for the guys they have less, we discussed earlier that they will have their hands full while facing the Hurricanes’ forwards. The Red Wings will need their bottom-five ranked penalty-kill to play above their heads against the Carolina powerplay. A bounce-back effort from this group will be required to show well over the next two games.
The Carolina Hurricanes have gotten some stellar goaltending as of late from Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic. Both goaltenders have save percentages (SV%) above .920 and goals-against averages (GAA) of under 2.0. Mrazek has not made enough starts to have his goals saved above average (GSAA) tracked, but Nedeljkovic on the other hand has a 8.2 GSAA. James Reimer has started the most games for the Hurricanes over the season, but his .905 SV% and -1.6 GSAA have been only average. I would think that the Hurricanes turn to either Mrazek or Nedeljkovic for their playoff run unless Reimer takes a step up. The combination of the goaltenders and the Hurricanes defensive corps will make goals tough to come by the next two games.
The good news is that Jonathan Bernier is back in the lineup. The bad news is that he did not look like the same goaltender that has been a backstop for the Red Wings over the past two years. The defense in front of him did not help, but the rust was evident. Detroit will need the rust shaken off in a hurry to keep the Red Wings competitive. Thomas Greiss has looked much better in his recent games but is still not the player that Steve Yzerman thought he was getting when he signed in the offseason. Regardless of who is in net, they will need to be at the top of their game to steal points in this series.
Conclusion and Prediction
To be completely honest, unless the Red Wings can catch Carolina on an off night, a sweep seems inevitable. Detroit’s position groups are outmatched in every facet and as a result, my prediction may surprise you. I am calling for the Red Wings to steal a game against Carolina in this series. They have earned 4/10 possible points against this Carolina team this season. After losing 7-1 against Nashville on Thursday, I have to think that there will be a sense of urgency from this team. Hopefully I did not jinx the Red Wings, as luck has not been on their side to this point in the season. Oh hell, I will double down. Cheers in advance to a split against the Hurricanes.