Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Carolina Hurricanes vs New York Islanders First-Round Series Preview

As the 2022-23 NHL Season comes to an end, it’s time to look forward to the playoffs. The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders will meet up for the second time ever in the first round this year. For Carolina, expectations are at an all-time high. This is their fifth consecutive post-season appearance and third consecutive division title. With injuries to key players like Andrei Svechnikov, they will look for a team effort to take down the Islanders. Meanwhile, the Islanders will look to avenge themselves from 2019 when the Hurricanes swept them in the second round. The return of Mathew Barzal should provide a spark for the team who failed to qualify for the playoffs last year. For two defensively focused teams, let’s take a look at what’s in store for this Hurricanes vs Islanders first-round matchup.

Carolina Hurricanes vs New York Islanders First-Round Series Preview

Ilya Sorokin – The New York Islanders Brick Wall

Ilya Sorokin has been a rockstar in net for the New York Islanders. Already emerging as a top goalie in the NHL prior to this season, this year he almost single-handedly backstopped the Islanders to the playoffs when there were times when it seemed like they may be out. This season, Sorokin had a 2.34 GAA and .924 SV% in 62 games played. For goalies playing in at least 20 games, his SV% was third in the league. While shouldering most of the load, Sorokin also led the league in shutouts with six. His 38.7 goals saved above expected was also good enough for third in the league. He was only behind other star goalies this season in Juuse Saros and Linus Ullmark in that category. For a team with an xGA of 181.77, Sorokin’s numbers while playing in 75% of the Islanders games this season are pretty impressive.

It is not unusual to see a hot goalie steal a playoff series or even the Stanley Cup. If Sorokin continues his stellar play, it might make things really tricky for the Hurricanes. This is especially true considering Carolina’s struggles on the power play and conversion on shots. Even when the Islanders are not blocking shots, Sorokin is there shut the door. For a team with a 0.35 expected goal differential and -16.48 goals scored above expected, look to the Islanders to lean on Sorokin to carry them through the series. And he is one that has the ability to do just that.

The Carolina Hurricanes Finding Chemistry

Much discussion this year has been made about the Hurricanes playing style, strengths and struggles this season. They are relentless on the forecheck and rely on shot suppression defensively and shot production offensively to win games. For the most part this season, that has worked. They finished the year tied for second in wins with 52 and second in points with 113. Also notably, they finished first in xG% at 58.32%. But on the other side, while they generate a lot of shots, their ability to finish is fairly low in relation. Their goals for above expected was third from last at -36.51% and shooting percentage on all shots taken was dead last at 4.67%.

They should score a lot more, but just don’t. Is that due to a lack of a true goal scorer, the system, or just the insanely large number of shots they take in relation? It’s hard to affirmatively say. A big reason however is their struggles on the power play. At 19.8% on the power play, they finished 20th in the league. Shayne Gostisbehere was brought in at the trade deadline to help in this regard. While he has been solid, things have not changed too much for their power play.

The more recent story is looking at what the Hurricanes have done since losing Svechnikov on March 11. They have struggled to not only score but also win at their previous rate. Since losing Svechnikov, the Hurricanes have a record of 9-8-1. Over that span of roughly playing .500 hockey, they have a goal differential of -1. The Islanders by comparison over that span were 8-5-1 with a positive 11 goal differential.

Notable point producers for the Hurricanes in Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas also cooled off some over that period. In fact the whole forward group had large chunks of time without scoring. Maybe the brightest spot has been Jesperi Kotkaniemi‘s play. After a slow start, he stepped up during that span to lead the Hurricanes with 13 points. The Hurricanes power play percentage also fell to a 10.9% over that span, putting them second from last in the league (above only the Islanders ironically).

The positive over that span, and largely for most of the season is that the Hurricanes defence has been able to contribute offensively to shoulder some of the weight. Is this a recipe for success in the playoffs though? Seems a little like walking on a tight rope. While the defensive pairings work, there are questions as to how to adjust the forward lines and the power play units to get the most production possible. Even in net, the Hurricanes have used three different goalies who all showed signs of being the starter (or not) come playoffs. For the Hurricanes to have success against the Islanders in round one, they will need to get some chemistry back that they lost following Svechnikov’s injury.

Hurricanes Defence vs Islanders Defence

Speaking of defence, this Hurricanes vs Islanders series will largely see two teams relentlessly try to shut each other down. When using the term defence here, I don’t just mean defencemen either as it’s full team efforts for both. During the regular season, the Hurricanes led head-to-head with the Islanders three to one by a cumulative score of 12 to 9. Neither team scored on the power play during any of those games. As seen over this season, both teams rely on their shut down abilities to win games. The leading goal scorers for the Islanders are Bo Horvat at 38 and Brock Nelson with 36. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes leading goal scorers include Sebastian Aho with 36 and Martin Necas with 28. Compared to many other teams in the playoffs, these are respectable but not earth-shattering individual numbers.

The Hurricanes ranked 15th in the NHL in goals scored with 262 while the Islanders ranked 22nd with 242. Goals against were 210 for the Hurricanes and 217 for the Islanders, ranking them at second and fifth in the league respectively. They also ranked first (Hurricanes) and second (Islanders) in shutouts this year. As mentioned above, the Hurricanes power play has not helped with goal scoring either. But neither has the Islanders. They ranked even lower this season with a 15.8%. On the other side of the coin, both teams ranked in the top ten in the NHL in penalty kill percentage.

All of this is to show how these two teams largely rely on defence to win games. While the metrics and defensive focus is very similar, it comes about in slightly different ways. The Hurricanes rely on their defence to suffocate opponents, rush the puck, step up in the play and contribute offensively. They suppress shots like their lives depend on it. The Hurricanes led the league in lowest shots against, high danger shots against and unblocked shots against. Interestingly, they were last in the league in shots blocked. So they aren’t blocking shots, they are just not allowing them.

But you have to score to win games and the Hurricanes offense is not going to typically outgun another team. Offensively, the defencemen have stepped up for the Hurricanes this season. They led the league in goals by defencemen with 59. Brent Burns was the NHL’s second star of the last regular season week with four goals and four assists in three games. He had an outstanding season with 18 goals and 61 points. Brady Skjei also had a career season in goals with 18.

Meanwhile, the Islanders also know how to close the door and utilize their defensive ability. Unlike the Hurricanes, they do not rely on shot suppression but more shot blocking, clogging down low and Vezina caliber goaltending to shut teams down. They finished fifth in the league this season in blocking shots and second in save percentage on unblocked shots at 94%.  Their goals against above expected was also good enough for third in the league at -41.13. For shots on goal against, the Islanders are middle of the pack. So while they may allow more shots than the Hurricanes, they are also very effective at stopping them, just in a slightly different fashion. Meanwhile, their offense from their defence was also respectable with 41 goals.  Alexander Romanov may make a return to add to an already impressive defensive group.

When either side breaks through and gets a goal or two, it will be hard for the other to make a comeback. Both of these teams have shown how effective they are at shutting down the opposition but also their struggles in scoring. The Hurricanes will need some rhythm. The Islanders getting Mathew Barzal back from injury should help them generate offense and possibly get Bo Horvat up and running. For this first-round, it’ll be a battle to see which team can shut down the other.

Series Prediction

If you asked me to make a series prediction over a month ago, I would have more confidently picked the Hurricanes in probably five games. However, that is neither here nor there. The Hurricanes didn’t make a move at the trade deadline to really replace Max Pacioretty‘s potential scoring. They definitely did not do enough to replace unexpectedly losing Svechnikov as well. Shayne Gostisbehere has been a nice pickup for the Hurricanes to round out their impressive defence, but there is a lot of goal scoring missed there. It is evident based on their record and lack of a positive goal differential since losing Svechnikov that the Hurricanes have struggled in his absence. With that said, there is something to say about a team working through adversity that can sometimes become an x-factor. This throws a big monkey wrench in making a prediction.

Meanwhile, the Islanders have been on the upward trend since the trade deadline. After spending much of the season looking like a team outside of the playoffs, they picked up Bo Horvat at the deadline and steadily made a climb to finish in the first wild card spot. Even though Horvat has not been producing as much since coming to New York, he has shown that he can put the puck in the net. Couple that with the return of Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson‘s goal scoring ability, and a Vezina caliber goalie in Sorokin, the Islanders may be tougher than people realize.

Ultimately, this will be a tight, defensive first series. The Hurricanes dominant shot heavy, possession and defensively suffocating style makes it hard for anyone to do much. The Islanders frustrating shot blocking and heavy checking style with a brick wall in net is equally as stifling. If either side gets down early, it may mean trouble. Without Svechnikov, the Hurricanes will need to get the best out of everyone and score gritty goals. Rod Brind’Amour is a coach that can’t be counted out to do that. Expect this to go the distance with the Hurricanes pulling out the win in seven games.

Main Photo: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports


More Posts

Send Us A Message