In a crucial fixture in the Metropolitan Division, the New York Rangers host the hottest team in the NHL Carolina Hurricanes (25-6-6) at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.
After extending their lead at the top of the division to seven points with a 5-4 shoot-out win against second-placed New Jersey Devils on Sunday, the Hurricanes have won 11 straight games which is the longest streak in their history.
The Rangers (20-12-6) are fourth in the division after beating Florida Panthers 5-3 on the same day to close the gap on New Jersey to three points and Washington Capitals in third to one point.
Despite being out of the automatic playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division, New York, To Reach The Playoffs, currently hold the first Wild Card spot from the Eastern Conference, sitting two points ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders who are just behind them.
The Hurricanes are -135 to make it 12 victories in a row, while the Rangers are to end the long winning run.
Not only have Carolina won 11 straight games but they are also on a 17-game point streak (15-0-2), dating back to late November which is an all-time franchise record. They also have at least a point in 12 straight road games where they are 13-3-5 this season.
With 56 points, Rob Brind'Amour's impressive side sit second in the entire NHL standings, six points behind Boston Bruins in the race for the Presidents' Trophy. Carolina are +300 to finish the season top of the standings with the Bruins +100.
The 52-year-old Brind’Amour is the first coach in Carolina history to lead them to the playoffs for three seasons straight and in 2020/21 was awarded the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year which he is +1400 to win again this season.
Under his guidance, the Hurricanes have reached the Eastern Conference Final, two semi-finals and a quarter final. As Captain, Brind’Amour led Carolina to their only Stanley Cup in 2006, and he is +700 to guide them to the championship as coach this season.
The Rangers made the Eastern Conference Final last season after finishing second to Carolina in the Metropolitan Division. That momentum failed to carry over into the new campaign, however, and they have taken time to grow into the season.
After going 7-2-1 in the past 10 games, the Rangers have cut out a lot of their early season inconsistency, but still have areas to address including their over-reliance on goaltending and a struggling powerplay.
The Rangers’ run to the Eastern Conference Final was in large part due to the heroics of netminder Igor Shesterkin who won the Vezina Trophy as Goalie of the Year after posting a .935 save percentage which was the third highest in league history.
New York were criticised for relying too heavily on him and have done little to change that narrative with Shesterkin starting the joint-most games in the league (28) and facing an average of 29.64 shots per game, compared to just a slightly higher 30.6 last season.
With the Russian’s save percentage dipping to a more normal .918 this season, the Rangers are conceding more goals (an average increase from 2.49 to 2.71), and despite a slight increase in scoring at the other end (from 3.05 to 3.18), it hasn’t been enough to compensate, and their points percentage has suffered, going from .671 to .605 this season.
A major area for concern is the powerplay where the Rangers’ success has fallen from 25.2% (fifth last season) to 22.3% (14th) in this campaign.
New York showed signs of last season's swagger on the man advantage against the Panthers going 2/4 after a stretch where they scored just once from 18 opportunities.
The Rangers, To Win The Stanley Cup in 2022/23, will get the opportunity to assess exactly where they are as a contender against the Hurricanes and face-up against what they need to do to themselves to protect Shesterkin more.
Carolina have conceded the second least goals in the NHL (2.54) and key to that is keeping the average shots against goalies Pyotr Kochetkov to 25.93 and Antti Raanta to 25.13.
The pair have also done their bit in the absence of regular number-one Frederik Andersen through injury with Kochetkov going 10-1-4 with a .928 save percentage and 1.94 goals against average (GAA) and Raanta 10-2-2 with a .897 save percentage and 2.62 GAA.
Kochetkov's form has made him a strong candidate for the Calder Memorial Trophy as Rookie of the Year which he is +275 to win.
The key area that Carolina will want to improve is their offense, scoring 3.11 average goals per game (20th), but with long-term absentees Max Pacioretty and Ondrej Kase set to return in the coming weeks, that will prove a major boost.