The Time: 7:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV — SN360, SNE, SNO, SNP, MSGSN, BSSO
The Canes are a very, very good team. In the standings, they, familiarly, top the Metro, and are second in the league behind Boston. Their current points percentage 0.734 is an extremely strong clip. With data from HockeyReference, the below table shows points percentages from President’s Trophy winners over the last decade. The Canes compare very favourably, only being bested by three teams.
Regarding the Metro race, after Carolina lost last night to Vegas, The Athletic currently give Carolina an 83% chance of winning the division, with the Devils at 17%. MoneyPuck has these numbers at 77.4% and 22.5%. MoneyPuck also gives these probabilities given what happens in the game tonight:
So, it isn’t like the Devils will be favourites to win the Metro, even if they beat Carolina in regulation. However, there is a 20% swing between winning and losing in regulation, so the outcome of tonight’s game is clearly of vital, vital importance. If the Devils do win tonight, they will be tied on points, but with a game more played. So very, very close. Of course, I guess the relevance of this discussion depends on how important you personally believe playoff seeding is. But I would much rather the Devils face a weaker wild-card team — perhaps Pittsburgh or the Islanders, teams the Devils have manhandled this year — and let the Canes and Rangers kill each other before taking on a Devils team in the second round which is more rested. But we’ll see. The point is, tonight is a big night.
All the following are per NaturalStattrick. At 5-on-5, the Canes are 2nd in goals-for percentage, way ahead in 1st in corsi-for percentage, xG-for percentage, scoring-chances-for percentage and high-danger chances-for percentage... Wagon. The Canes are 5-on-5 monsters, check this out, for instance (MoneyPuck):
They are playing in a league of their own at 5-on-5 (the Devils aren’t bad, but they do sort of pale in comparison).
There is one point of concern from the Canes’ perspective, however. Look at these plots from HockeyViz:
The first is the Canes’ shot rates at 5-on-5, where the red blobs at the left and right points and in the slot show that they take way more shots than league average from those regions. The second shows their scoring above average from those spots, where the red areas show that they score more than average with shots from those locations (the points), but, critically, the blue in the slot makes their high chance-generation there in the first plot sort of for nought, as they do not capitalise on those high-danger opportunities. This has been a massive issue for the Hurricanes for years, with their playoff failures in recent seasons mainly being due to not being able to score. Against the Rangers last year, where they were eliminated in seven games, they scored 2, 2, 1, 1, 3, 2, 2 goals in those games for an average of 1.86... This is the main reason why their addition of sniper Max Pacioretty from Vegas over the summer made such perfect sense, as he would be able to score in high-leverage moments, something the Canes are sort of unable to do. When he got injured, this is why the Canes were in on Meier. The Devils got Meier (you might have heard?) and Carolina failed to get an alternative. I am going to be very interested to see how the Canes do this year in the playoffs. If they fail to score much, don’t be surprised.
We sort of see a similar pattern at special teams as well: the Carolina powerplay is 15th in the NHL, their penalty kill is 2nd, in terms of conversion rates. However, per NaturalStattrick, they are 11th in xG for per 60 on the powerplay, and 4th in xG against per 60 on the penalty kill, so their scoring rates are in-line with expectation here, for what is clearly a very strong special-teams team.
The above is The Athletic’s depth chart for the Canes. Concerningly, I see a lot more As and Bs than I would like to see. Carolina is characterised by its depth, where the top six, although good, is only given a B (it is good, but not in the NHL elite). Their 3rd and 4th lines, however, are extremly good, compared to what the rest of the NHL can put out there. Indeed, looking at players’ points per game, you have to go all the way down to 46th to find the first Carolina player, Aho, with 0.96. Similarly, if you want to look at TOI per game amongst forwards, Aho is the first on the list at 43rd. Clearly, they roll four lines as much as possible, and have quality players on each of these lines.
A guy I want to look at a bit closer here is captain Jordan Staal. Staal has been around for ever, seemingly, but he is still going very well. In a recent rundown of the NHL awards race, The Athletic had the following graphic for the Selke:
First of all, yes, Nico is an elite defensive forward. Good to see. Second, Staal is a monster. Look at his impacts here (HockeyViz, of course):
Offensively, he doesn’t have as much as he used to (from the same page, he used to be an elite (and I mean elite) offensive forward), however, his defensive impacts are off the charts. Basically there isn’t any ice at all in his defensive zone that is white or red. Above I wrote about one of the main narratives from Carolina’s recent post-season runs, their scoring struggles. A second one, from last year, was that, going to two game sevens in the first two rounds, they didn’t win a single game on the road, winning seven straight home games before losing the eighth at home in game 7 versus the Rags. One of the main reasons that was put forward for this strange pattern was that, on home ice, coach Rod Brind’amour could control matchups, meaning he could hard-match the opponents’ best players with Staal. Which he did. When on the road, the opponent’s coach kept his big guns away from Staal, and the games always ended in the home-team’s favour. Thankfully, the Devils are at home tonight. Otherwise, the Jack Hughes line would have limited fun.
The Carolina defense is a really strong unit, comparing very favourably with the rest of the league. That top-four, especially, with the addition of Brent Burns over the summer, is really good. Jacob Slavin and Brett Pesce have long been heralded as fantastic defensive defensemen. What was surprising to me is that Brady Skjei and Burns — players I think of as offense first — are also elite defensively. These four guys are in the 85th (Pesce), 91st (Burns and Skjei), and 95th (Slavin) percentiles in terms of defensive impacts, according to the Athletic, across the NHL. Couple this with Staal and Kotkaniemi at center (defense-first centermen) and the unparalleled defensive xG numbers seen above are unsurprising.
New addition at the deadline, Shayne Gostisbehere, has fit right in since arriving, having four powerplay points (two goals, two assists) in five games. Admittedly, these were all in the first two games, with Ghost having gone pointless since, but he is certainly of the Dougie Hamilton (although vastly less talented) and Tony DeAngelo (although less of an idiot) ilk: strong offense, weak defense.
Overall, this Carolina defense group is very strong, with the top-four having superb impacts at both ends of the ice.
Last night, as the Devils were beating Montreal, Freddie Andersen conceded three on 23 shots as the Canes got shut out by Vegas. He is unlikely to start tonight. Indeed, I would say quite confidently that he won’t start tonight. That leaves rookie (I think he still qualifies as a rookie, not really sure what the rules are, to be honest) Pyotr Kochetkov, as Antti Raanta has been out with injury. Raanta could be back (he has been day-to-day on DailyFaceoff and unknown on PuckPedia), but since Kochetkov got a shutout in his last start (against the unfortunately GM-less Flyers), I reckon he’ll get the nod.
Kochetkov has been really good in his games this year. Per HockeyReference, in 20 games (19 starts) he has a save percentage of 0.917, a quality start percentage of 0.632 and a goals saved above average of 5.9 In fact, by pretty much any metric, he has been the Canes’ best goalie this year. Per MoneyPuck, amongst the 65 goalies to play at least 15 games, Kochetkov is 9th in goals saved above expected per 60 in all situations. In terms of save percentage above expected at different levels of dangerous shots, he is 48th against low-danger shots, 33rd against medium-danger shots and, yes, first against high-danger shots. Indeed, this, from HockeyViz, does not make me very optimistic:
Not a great look. I guess let Graves bang it on net from the point all night and hope for the best? Given the Devils’ recent ability to make any given opposition goalie look like a Vezina candidate (MoneyPuck)
I am not optimistic that they can make a seeming Vezina-caliber goalie look like he isn’t.
What do you think about tonight’s matchup? Who did I miss to write about? Anyone the Devils should be particularly afraid of? Or should be looking to take advantage of? What are your opinions about playoff seeding? I personally think that it is vitally important, but that might just be me. Will Vitek Vanacek be back to his solid self tonight, after a rough patch recently? Will we finally see Curtis Lazar in the lineup? If so, in for whom? Let me know in the comments, and thank you for reading and supporting the site!