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Who are these guys? Getting to know the Isles’ next opponent, the Carolina Hurricanes

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An intro to Carolina’s players, style and reason for being.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at Carolina Hurricanes
Yep, Nino’s Back.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

I think I’ve been destined to write this post: since the beginning of this year, as many of you may know from twitter, I’ve been treating the Carolina Hurricanes as my second team and have been watching nearly all of their games. It’s not totally random - they were the local NHL hockey team while I was in college and went to a lot of games during those years - and I’ve been a fan of what they’ve been doing player management-wise for a while (their Analytics guy, Eric Tulsky, was the guy who inspired me to do Neutral Zone Tracking, so this is not surprising).

So yeah I’ve watched a lot of Canes hockey and know a lot about these guys.....so let me share so you can be better prepared for the next week.

The Canes’ Style of Play:

If you’ve listened to the National Media, you might have gotten the impression that the Canes are a small and fast team, that relies on quick attacks on transition to get their offense started, features very little star power and relies instead on pounding their opponent with bad shots in hopes of overwhelming them. You’d be thinking they’re a Chicago Blackhawks or Dallas Stars-esque team from the past few years.

You would be very, very wrong.

The Canes do accumulate a ton of shots - both attempts and on-net - but how they do it bears no resemblance to what the National media seems to conceive. Instead they rely heavily on their insanely skilled and often physical forecheck - they may lack in size, but they are absolutely willing and very happy to swarm opponents on the boards in the offensive zone, forcing turnovers to generate high quality chances and making it absolutely hell on earth for teams to try and get the puck out of the zone.

When the Canes are playing well - as in Overtime of Game 7 Wednesday, or the 2nd and 3rd periods of Game 3 on last Monday - their opponents seem stuck desperately in their own zone, rarely able to get the puck out except by occasional blind dump-outs, which result in the Canes immediately re-entering and repeating the process.

Making this strategy more dominating at times is the fact that it’s done well by basically every line the Canes roll out. Like the Isles, the Canes originally rolled out two skill lines as well as a fourth line that consisted of talented grinders (well, they also included a #2 overall pick) that earned quickly far more ice time than the supposed third line. But as the season went along, at least two of the three “third liners” started to get more ice time, leading to four lines who were very able to pressure and forecheck and make things hell for opponents in their own zone. The team can strike in transition - star Sebastian Aho is pretty damn skilled and there’s a few other quicker skaters, particularly among their defense - but it’s not really their main method of attack. And their defensemen may be the quickest to pinch of any team in the league, making it even harder for teams to get the puck out of the zone.

The Hurricanes Players:

As I mentioned above, the Hurricanes are very balanced in terms of lines, and will throw out their “fourth” line even late in close games, like the Isles. Coach Rod Brind’Amour is very willing to shift lines mid-game due to each line playing somewhat similarly, and double shifting a player here and there to replace the 12th forward is a not uncommon tactic. Similarly, defense pair shifts are not uncommon. Still, for ease, let’s go through the Canes players line by line and pair by pair right now:

Line 1: Teuvo (Turbo) Teräväinen, Sebastian Aho, Nino Niederreiter

The Canes top scoring line is this line, featuring Finnish star Sebastian Aho (not to be confused with the Isles’ Swedish defenseman of the same name) at center, which he’s playing for the first time this year - and quite successfully. They’re definitely the Canes’ most successful line in transition, but it’s dangerous all around, as a goal highlighted Carey’s post yesterday shows - they are still deadly off the forecheck.

Aho actually slumped hard in terms of goal scoring at the end of the year, but former Isle Nino - who was not on the team when these two teams played in the regular season - has been on a tear and has taken this line to the next level: Nino is a monster forechecker, battling with his stick and body through guys, a great passer, and a solid if unspectacular scorer. He’s everything you’d want from a #5 overall pick - alas, not for the team that drafted him. Turbo is an excellent third wheel on this line but if things go wrong, he’d be the most likely guy to be shifted to another line.

Carolina Hurricanes v Washington Capitals - Game Seven Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Line 2: Brock McGinn-Jordan Staal-Justin Williams (Michael Ferland/Andrei Svechnkov)

This line may not actually be the main trio together during Game 1, as Brock McGinn is here due to injuries in the rest of the lineup - if Andrei Svechnikov or Michael Ferland is available (most likely Ferland) - they may slot in here in place of McGinn, who will drop down the lineup. Warren Foegele was probably on this line the last time the Canes played the Isles, and also could cameo here.

But Staal is the centerpiece of this line, usually accompanied by Justin “CorsiGod/Mr. Game 7” Williams. If there’s ever a line that lived up to the reputation of this team of “gets a billion shots on net, doesn’t score on them” it’s this line, especially as it played in the first half of the season. Their forecheck would get constant shots on net, pull off 60% corsis and similar expected goals numbers, and just not score. It’s also excellent defensively. But the line got better at putting the puck in the net in the latter half of the season, and if Michael Ferland (or Svechnikov, who has been promoted here before) comes back, it gains a bit more offensive punch. Brock McGinn is basically the Canes’ foremost grinder, whose most notable offensive talent is the ability to hit the post (A LOT), but like the Isles’ Casey Cizikas, Brind’Amour trusts him implicitly anywhere in the lineup and he is one of the guys who may double shift as well.

Line 3/4: Jordan Martinook-Lucas Wallmark-Warren Foegele (Svechnikov)

This is the line that many considered the “Fourth Line” in the beginning of the season, but like the Isles’ Cizikas line, it really is the third-most used line. Svechnikov, the 2nd overall pick from last year, is very often on this line, which you might think is a waste of his talents, but both Wallmark and Martinook are just good enough at scoring to convert his great passes, and Svechnikov is just a monster at getting through bodies and sticks, winning the puck and finding the proper pass or shot. He’s still recovering from his concussion from round 1 though, and probably won’t be available till mid-series if at all.

Wallmark and Martinook are basically the Canes versions of Cizikas and Clutterbuck (in addition to McGinn), though I think both guys are surprisingly better scorers than the Isles’ fourth line guys. Martinook hurt himself at the end of Round 1 and didn’t play in OT of Game 7, so he’s questionable for Game 1 I think. Clark Bishop, a player who played some games with the Canes but most of the year in Charlotte, might replace him if he’s a no-go.

The Actual Line 4: Saku Maenalanen-Greg McKegg-Patrick Brown

Three guys who started the year in AHL Charlotte make up the Canes’ least used line. Brown actually didn’t play a single regular season game, and if guys start getting healthy, he’ll be the first scratch. The team will frequently double shift for him in any event. But Maenalanen and McKegg have earned a decent amount of trust from Rod Brind’Amour, and will get rolled out even in third periods, if not as often as the other guys and with other dudes on their wings (McGinn is the most likely fit here).

Essentially this is the Canes’ version of the Filppula line, except the Canes version doesn’t bleed shots against. It may not score much, but it gets the job done.

Defense Pair 1: Jaccob Slavin-Dougie Hamilton

One of the best D pairs in the entire league, and somehow incredibly underrated, Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton are a truly deadly pairing. Slavin is the Nick Leddy-type Isles fans are used to, but better: he’s an incredibly good skater, but also makes terrific decisions with the puck, gets back incredibly quick, and can transition from zone exit to zone entry on a dime. Maybe not the greatest shooter, but he does basically everything else really well, from denying opposing zone entries to exiting to entering himself.

Dougie Hamilton is similarly ridiculous, just in ways that you wouldn’t expect from his 6’6” frame, which is why he’s so misunderstood and derided across the league. He’s an incredibly good skater himself, able to pinch in deep (which he does quite often) and get back when the puck goes the other way in a hurry, and has a lethal shot. For reasons unknown to mankind, he’s not on the 1st unit power play, but he still managed almost 20 goals this year. Does he use the body to perform hard hits? No, but he still is willing to go fight along the boards and get the darn puck, and he does more than enough to make him one of the best defensemen in the league - anyone saying he can be “exploited” is an ignoramus.

Carolina Hurricanes v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Defense Pair 2: Brett Pesce-Justin Faulk

More of a traditional D pair, Pesce and Faulk form what one would think is a typical “defensive d-offensive d” pairing. But Pesce is incredibly smart about his pinches and is well willing to try to drive offense in the offensive zone - the Canes will not uncommonly find him out there with Slavin incidentally - and he’s just an all round super smart defender that is really good.

Justin Faulk is......special. The numbers will tell you Faulk is a pretty good D, and on average he is! But he very much is the offensive Dman who can make stupid mistakes on D causing every Canes fan to swear repeatedly, and his position as the only D on the Canes’ first power-play unit makes absolutely no sense and again drives Canes fans crazy - he’s a less able shooter, skater, or passer than Hamilton, but oh well. The Canes D features 5 guys who are easily “top 4” defensemen, but Faulk is the most attackable of any of those 5 guys.

Defense Pair 3: Calvin de Haan-Trevor Van Riemsdyk (“TVR”)

You know Calvin de Haan if you’re not new here - he hasn’t changed, still an incredibly smart and capable defensive dman with the ability to jump in on occasion on offense, provide strong support to the other skaters, etc. He’s still very good, though he just came back from injury mid-first round (so again, things haven’t changed much).

TVR is the only Canes defenseman - assuming de Haan doesn’t get hurt again - who isn’t a clear Top 4 guy. He’s mobile, but doesn’t drive play or score much or even lead the rush, doesn’t make a lot of crazy notable mistakes, but doesn’t make many great plays either. He’s utterly fine....and that’s about it. Having CDH to baby-sit him helps make him invisible, which is all the Canes really need. But he’s the least threatening Canes D on the ice and the Isles should try to capitalize when he’s out there.

Goalies: Petr Mrazek, Curtis McElhinney

Mrazek played all seven games of Round 1, but like the Isles, both goalies basically split time in the regular season. Neither guy has been better than average on a whole for their career, but in the latter half of the season, each guy had moments of brilliance - the same went for the first round. This is the one area the Isles have a clear undoubted edge, as Lehner is almost certainly better than both guys, who can be beat.

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Anyhow, I hope this guide helps give you a little more familiarity going into game 1 Friday Night. The Canes may not have the individual skill stars like Ovechkin and Backstrom of the Caps, but their depth and relentlessness is incredible and Isles fans will likely be swearing at more than a few points when it seems the puck is endlessly in the Isles’ zone. It will be a very different test, and it should be a good one.