With Game 1 between the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes getting underway this afternoon, both teams will get a bit of a rude awakening from their first round opponents. It should be a quick lesson, as the expected Rangers/Canes line matchups will present much more difficult challenges than the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders, respectively.

These two teams are pretty evenly matched on paper, and both coaches are going to do their best to put their players in a position to succeed. Peter Laviolette will have last change to start things off, and we do know he prefers to get his shutdown players out there against the opposition’s best. For Carolina, that’s the Jake Guentzel-Sebastian Aho-Andrei Svechnikov line.

As a reminder, all of this is fluid and can/will change throughout the series based off effectiveness, last change, zone start, and other game factors.

Rangers/Canes line matchups come down to shutting down top lines

With Laviolette getting last change, we should expect the Will Cuylle-Alex Wennberg-Kaapo Kakko line to get the Guentzel-Aho-Svechnikov line. It’s pretty much common sense, and it’s also their most dangerous line that can produce the most consistent offense. Sometimes, there’s no need to overthink it. As we’ve said, shut down this line, and you cut off one of Carolina’s legs.

Aside: We may see the MIka Zibanejad line get the Aho line if Laviolette feels he wants more established players initially.

In the first round, the K’Andre Miller-Braden Schneider pair got most of the difficult minutes. It’s unclear if this will continue against a much more potent Carolina team, but it’s a safe guess.

When the Canes have last change, expect them to try to get the Teuvo Teravainen-Jordan Staal-Seth Jarvis line out against the Panarin-Vincent Trocheck-Alexis Lafreniere line. Staal’s line got the Mat Barzal/Bo Horvat line, so this figures to carry over against the Rangers. Though a lot can change in the first two games of the series.

This presents a unique challenge to the Rangers, as the line can also put the puck in the net. Jarvis led the Canes in scoring in the first round and we know both Teravainen and Staal can score. We may see Carolina alternate between Staal’s line and Jack Drury’s line, depending on the zone start.

This is the classic strength vs. strength matchup.

Secondary shutdown lines may be critical

Carolina and the Rangers are very similarly structured teams. They both have their primary shutdown lines, as described above. They both also have secondary shutdown lines with the Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Jack Roslovic and Jordan Martinook-Jack Drury-Martin Necas lines.

While both lines will likely be fill-ins for their primary shutdown lines when needed, we may see a lot of these two lines against each other. Zibanejad’s line is very clearly the Rangers second best offensive line, which is where we might get the Drury matchup in Carolina.

But with Laviolette having last change in the first two games, we might see him try to get Zibanejad out there against either Staal or the Evgeny Kuznetsov line. Against Staal, it would free up the Panarin line for weaker competition. Against Kuznetsov, it would be to hopefully feast against a line that will have trouble defending.

Moving top lines around to get better matchups

As we know, both coaches will try to get their top offensive lines (Panarin/Zibanejad and Aho/Staal) out against weaker competition. It will be game flow dependent, of course. This is why depth can and probably will determine the outcome of the series. As the top guys keep getting moved around to avoid matchups, the depth won’t have that level of focus on matchups.

If, for example, we wind up with a Zibanejad/Aho matchup, something that is also entirely possible as part of the aside above, that would free up the Wennberg line–or the Filip Chytil line, if that comes to be–to feat on lesser competition. Either iteration of the line will be forechecking and cycling monsters, and against the Kuznetsov line, if possible, they would have a field day.

Ditto for the Hurricanes if they can get their top guys out against Panarin’s line in the offensive zone. We can talk about game planning all we want, sometimes it’s all about the game flow.

Defense is also evenly matched

The Hurricanes lost one of their best defensemen in Brett Pesce for an unknown amount of time, forcing them to dress Tony DeAngelo alongside Brady Skjei. Skjei has been great for the Canes, but DeAngelo is a defensive black hole that few can cover up. Skjei most certainly can’t, and if that pair gets pinned, it could get ugly.

Meanwhile, expect the Canes to try to target the Erik Gustafsson-Jacob Trouba pair for the exact same reason. The other pairs on both teams are pretty much equal, albeit with different strengths.

Filip Chytil is the ultimate wild card

It looks like Filip Chytil won’t play in Game 1, but we may see him in Game 2 if Laviolette doesn’t like what he sees from the Rangers in Game 1, regardless of outcome. He’s taking a risk by putting Matt Rempe in there with the refs targeting him. We all love Rempe, but it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore the penalties.

Inserting Chytil into the lineup, assuming he’s back at his 3C spot, again gives the Rangers another Zibanejad-esque combination shutdown/scoring line while moving the primary shutdown duties to the fourth line (Vesey-Wennberg-Goodrow).

Chytil’s line would certainly be capable of holding their own against top scorers, but this line would actually fare much better in cupcake matchups (note: Kuznetsov). Brind’Amour can’t keep Kuznetsov away from everyone if the Rangers have 3 scoring threats.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet on seeing Chytil in this series. If the Rangers/Canes line matchups are pretty even right now, then Chytil would tilt that advantage to the Rangers.


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