By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – As the Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators put the final touches on prepping for their 2021 NHL Playoffs Round 1 opener at PNC Arena on Monday, you have to wonder what approach each team will take to beat the other.
“We know a lot about Carolina,” Predators coach John Hynes said during a media Zoom call on Sunday.
“Our preparation’s been really strong and now it’s time to play.”
Know your opponent
Just what do the Predators know, you ask?
Aside from losing six in the two teams’ eight-game regular season series, they have confidence following two final-season wins between the two.
Hynes of course played his poker face and answered in generalities – hockey speak.
His players offered up a little bit more of what their focus was on.
“We had a good week of practice and we were able to work on some things specifically for Carolina,” Nashville defenseman Ben Harpur said.
“We know that they like to play with a ton of speed. They have a lot of skill on the forward end as well as defensively. I think if we can establish our game early and play physical and make it difficult for them to advance the puck cleanly and use their speed off the rush, I think that’s going to benefit us. Playing physical and making it hard for them to come through five layers of defense I think is the key for us.”
Wait for it
Harpur was spot on: skating in all three zones with speed, and advancing the puck fast and cleanly is the key to Carolina’s success.
Thus the counter will be to slow them down.
Harpur offered up the nugget to look for.
A five-layer defense – meaning a staggered 1-1-1-2 forecheck and neutral zone trap with the netminder Rinne or Saros as the final obstacle to overcome?
Let’s assume it’s something to that matter of interpretation.
It will only work if the Hurricanes are denied North-South passes.
One in deep quickly needs to force the pass across ice with another forechecker on the puck with the third at the top of the circles and high slot to scoop up loose pucks or turn them over.
The defense then has to read for a pinch or be ready to slow the rush between the neutral zone.
Otherwise, hope for a big save.
Key here is gapping everywhere.
Will it work?
Carolina is surgical in its passing through open spots – the tiniest of them if they’re playing with speed – anywhere on the ice.
They’ve converted on those opportunities all season and will continue to do so if allowed to.
However, any slowed tempo will cause turnovers – the Hurricanes have been vulnerable when forced to play that way.
That’s what Nashville will work to make happen by playing a hard, physical game.
It will be nasty and ugly right from the opening puck drop.
And not every infraction will be called – there will be too many of them.
Expect nothing less to set the tone for this series.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport