There’s just one game in the NHL tonight, and it’s being played in the most famous arena in the world. The Carolina Hurricanes (27-21-6, 5th Metropolitan) head to Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Rangers (23-22-8, 7th Metropolitan).
Both of these teams find themselves fighting for a playoff spot, with the Hurricanes just three points behind Pittsburgh for the final wild card spot. Carolina is 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, including four wins in their last five games. New York is also 6-3-1 over their last 10 games, but have lost three out of their last five games.
This is the third time these teams have faced off against each other, with New York winning the most recent game 6-2 on January 15th. Tonight, Carolina is the slight favorite on the road, being listed at -115.
The Perfect (Possession) Storm
If you are a firm believer in puck possession translating to success, there is perhaps no more puzzling team than the Hurricanes. Carolina is currently considered the number one possession team in the league, ranking 1st in shots per game (35.5) and 1st in shots allowed (28.1).
But even with those elite marks, Carolina is an average 16th with 2.91 goals per game, thanks in part to being 29th in shooting percentage. Their power play is also below average, ranking 26th at 16.2%. They fare a little better defensively, but are just 13th in goals allowed with an average of 2.93. Their penalty kill is just 16th in the league as well.
The Hurricanes have up until recently been hovering around .500 for the season. The main player keeping them in contention is first-time All-Star Sebastian Aho. The young forward leads the team with 24 goals and 38 assists. However, the group behind him lacks superstars. Teuvo Teravainen and Micheal Ferland are second on the team with 14 goals each, and Teravainen and Justin Williams are the only players over 30 points.
Despite the league-average goals allowed number, Carolina’s defensive group is very good. Highlighted by Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, and former All-Star Justin Faulk, the Hurricanes blue line is full of young, puck-moving defensemen that control possession and give Carolina opportunities to score.
Following two straight starts from Curtis McElhinney including Thursday’s overtime win at Buffalo, Petr Mrazek is expected to start tonight for the Canes. Mrazek is 11-11-3 with a 2.82 GAA and .894 save percentage.
Big Apple Blues
It has been a tough year for the Rangers, who entered the season as a clear rebuilding team. However, a win tonight would put them two games above .500, a place they haven’t been since January 2nd. With the trade deadline approaching on February 25th, New York finds themselves in the interesting position of being exactly nine points away from both a playoff spot and last place in the Eastern Conference.
Even though they appear to be thinking about the postseason, New York does not impress in any statistical category. They rank 27th in goals per game, 30th in shots, and 15th in shooting percentage. Defensively, they are 26th in goals allowed, 23rd in shots allowed, and 27th in penalty kill percentage.
Mika Zibanejad continues to lead the team with 53 points, followed by Chris Kreider at 40. They are similar to Carolina in a sense, as they have many guys who have had okay seasons in terms of point production, but not a lot of high-end numbers. As for their blue line, Anthony DeAngelo is the only regular defenseman with a positive plus-minus (+6).
After sitting on Wednesday in favor of Alex Georgiev, Henrik Lundqvist will likely return to start in net tonight for New York. Lundqvist is 16-13-8 with a 3.04 GAA and .906 save percentage.
Carolina is a slight favorite, but I like them to win big tonight. Based on each team’s possession numbers, Carolina should get a ton of scoring chances while limiting the amount of shots Mrazek faces. The Hurricanes are coming off of a game on Thursday, however they are 5-3-1 this season in the second game of a back-to-back. I will take the Hurricanes -115 to win in New York.