The NHL playoffs are underway and we continue our series previews, taking a look at the Central Division for the series between the Nashville Predators and the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Predators finished the regular season with a record of 31-23-2, good enough for fourth in the Central Division, while the Hurricanes secured their first division championship since the 2005-06 season, going 36-12-8. In that season, the Hurricanes also lifted the Stanley Cup.
In their eight head-to-head matchups this season, the Hurricanes won six. During those tilts, Carolina outscored Nashville 24 to 17. This series has the potential to have a lot of offense. Let’s break down the different aspects of each team to see who has the advantage in this matchup.
You can find the rest of our first round previews here.
For Nashville, it is safe to say that they will go with Juuse Saros in the net. Saros stood on his head this year, posting multiple career-bests in GAA with a 2.28 as well as a 92.7 save percentage while posting a record of 21-11-1. He also had 22 quality starts of his 35 overall, another career-best.
In the crease for Carolina, they have had three quality options when they are all healthy. It will be intriguing to see who coach Rod Brind’Amour decides to start between the pipes. However, for this preview, let’s assume that it will be the up-and-coming star Alex Nedeljkovic in the net for the Hurricanes. In his first season of taking on a bigger workload, he proved that he’s up to the task posting a 15-5-3 record in 23 starts. He also led the league in GAA (a very impressive 1.90), as well as in save percentage with 93.2 percent.
For this section, it all could come down to who suits up for the Hurricanes. However, if it is Nedeljkovic, the goaltending advantage goes to the Hurricanes.
For Nashville, the defense was solid, finishing 12th in the league in goals against per game at a 2.75. When you think of Predators’ defensemen in 2021, the first name that more than likely comes to mind is the captain, Roman Josi. Last year, he did win the Norris Trophy after all. However, in terms of a true defenseman, the man who shines above them all is Mattias Ekholm. He leads the team in defensive point shares by far with a 3.9. The next highest person is Ryan Ellis with a 1.9 DPS.
Carolina, on the other hand, finished fifth in goals against per game with 2.39. For their defensive point shares, their top two players in that category are tied at 4.4 each. Those two players are Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin. They have six players with a defensive point share of at least two. As a team, the Hurricanes also finished seventh in the league in shots against per game with an average of 28.2.
While Nashville’s defensemen shine on the offensive end, Carolina still takes this category pretty handily.
The Predators are likely hoping for a lot of five-on-five hockey. Their power play struggled during the regular season, finishing with a 17.6 power play percentage which put them 24th in the league. Their penalty kill did not exactly do them any favors either, finishing a lowly 29th in the league with a 75.4 percent penalty kill.
Carolina had one of the best power plays in the league, finishing second with an impressive power-play percentage of 25.6. Their penalty kill was just as excellent, finishing third in the league with an 85.2 percent penalty kill.
The first two categories were reasonably close, but this one is a runaway. Advantage: Hurricanes.
The Predators’ offense finished just a little beneath the upper half of the league during the regular season. They finished with 2.70 goals per game, good for 22nd in the league in that category. Their top points scorer was the aforementioned Josi who had 33 points in 48 games. Their top two goal scorers, both with 13, were Calle Jarnkrok and Mikael Granlund.
Averaging 3.13 goals per game, Carolina finished 11th in the league at the close of the season. The Hurricanes’ top point scorer during the season was Sebastian Aho, who had 57 points in 56 games, and was also the top goal scorer with 24. Nino Niederreiter was second in that category with 20 goals.
The offensive category is another one that is easily determined. The offensive advantage goes to Carolina.
Now we will take a look at X-factors who will have an impact on how their team fares in the series.
For Nashville, when you think of players who would be considered a potential game-breaker, it has to be Filip Forsberg. Forsberg had 32 points in 39 games this season and is one of Nashville’s biggest offensive weapons. He will be a big part of the Preds’ offense during this series.
As far as the ‘Canes, Aho is a big part of the offense, but he is a reliable offensive weapon more than an X-factor. However, there is a player on the Hurricanes who had a breakout year and was the talk of the league for a while. The Hurricanes’ X-factor is their young center Martin Necas. Necas had an incredible breakout year with 41 points in 53 games, and will be able to prove that it is the start of him developing to a legit star for the Hurricanes.
This is tricky. Both players could easily give their team the advantage, but the experience of Forsberg edges out Necas here. The killer edge/game-breaker advantage goes to the Predators.
Finally, we will take a look at the two men behind the bench who will lead their teams into battle during this series.
The Predators will be led by their head coach John Hynes. Hynes just finished his first full regular season behind the Nashville bench after being hired in January, replacing Peter Laviolette. In his seven years as a coach, Hynes holds a record of 196-193-48. He has made two playoff appearances, one last year with the Predators in the qualifiers, and one with the New Jersey Devils back in 2017-18. His playoff record stands at 2-7.
Over to Carolina, head coach Rod Brind’Amour is in his third year as the Hurricanes head coach. His record stands at 120-65-20. He has made the playoffs in each of his first three years, including this one, holding a record of 12-11 in the playoffs.
Brind’Amour has the better record, but Hynes has the experience edge. So we look to how each coach has faired in their respective divisions. Hynes has had several eighth place finishes with the Devils, while Brind’Amour secured his first division title. For that reason, the coaching advantage goes to Carolina.
In many experts’ eyes, this could be one of the series that could be quickly determined. However, when you take a deep dive into these categories, they tell a story of a series that could be tighter than people realize. However, the stellar offense of the Hurricanes combined with having all the advantages aside from the X-factor, although it was close, says this series will go to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Series Prediction: Carolina Hurricanes 4-2
Follow Carson Babbini on Twitter @cbabs1120
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