RALEIGH — The Hurricanes get started on their “31 games in 62 days” stretch run Saturday when they host the Rangers at PNC Arena.
The teams played a tight seven-game series last year, with New York prevailing, and have met just once so far this year — a 5-3 Rangers win on Jan. 3 in which New York scored three times on the power play (once into an empty net) and rallied past the Hurricanes in the third period.
1. The Hurricanes — winners of seven straight and with points in 10 consecutive games before their prolonged break — will start Frederik Andersen in net. Andersen hasn’t lost since returning from injury in mid-January, posting a 6-0-0 record with a .919 save percentage and 2.19 goals-against average.
Carolina will get back defenseman Jaccob Slavin, who last played on Jan. 19 and missed six games, while Dylan Coghlan will be the healthy scratch.
“We really were cautious with him,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Thursday of Slavin. “We knew we had all this time, so it didn’t really make a lot of sense to put him in. I think he could have played the last couple games, but it just didn’t make sense to do it, especially with this added rest.”
New York comes to Raleigh having played Friday night, a 6-3 win over the visiting Kraken. Igor Shesterkin got the start in net, so presumably Jaroslav Halak will start for the Rangers against Carolina.
2. Friday was also the Blueshirts debuts for defenseman Niko Mikkola and winger Vladimir Tarasenko, acquired from St. Louis on Friday. Mikkola had six penalty minutes in 14:04 of ice time, while Tarasenko made an immediate positive impact, opening the scoring on his second shift with a tap in off a feed from new linemate Artemi Panarin just 2:49 into the game. He finished with two shots in 13:58 of ice time.
“It makes them better, obviously,” Brind’Amour said of New York’s additions. “They took two pieces out (of the lineup) and then upgraded. So that essentially makes you better.”
Hurricanes center Paul Stastny, who played on a line at times with Tarasenko during his three-plus seasons in St. Louis, called the Russian winger “a world-class player.”
“He’s smarter than most people think,” Stastny said. “He thinks the game at a high level for an offensive guy. Obviously he can shoot the puck. He’s powerful and the way he skates, kind of glides on the ice, which very few players do in this league.
“So it just seems like effortless. It never looks like he goes hard, just one, two pushes and he can blow right past you. … That one push, where he’s leaning right and cuts to the middle, he creates more separation than people think. And then he doesn’t need that much time and space to get a shot off.”
3. The addition of Tarasenko with the Rangers coupled with Bo Horvat’s trade to the Islanders makes the Metropolitan Division even tougher. It also leads to more eyes being on New Jersey and Carolina to make a counter and bolster their respective lineups.
“I think everybody knows that we’ve got a strong division,” Brind’Amour said, “a lot of really good teams that feel like they have a chance to win it all. And if you get an opportunity to push your team over the edge, that’s what you’re gonna do. That’s what you’re seeing, and I’m sure you’ll see more of it.”
In his interview on the “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast last week, Brind’Amour was quick to say he expected the Hurricanes to bolster their lineup after losing Max Pacioretty to an Achilles injury (again) but gaining $7 million in cap space by putting him on LTIR.
Brind’Amour’s response was a little more measured when I asked him about GM Don Waddell saying earlier in the week that the team could target a forward and defensive depth at the deadline.
“If you can improve those spots — that’s basically what he’s saying, improve everything a little bit, find somebody that can help you,” Brind’Amour said. “But if it doesn’t, that’s not something in our cards, it’s fine. We’ve come this far with this group and feel pretty good about it.”
4. Carolina’s nine-day break — a combination of the All-Star break and the team’s league-mandated bye week — probably didn’t come at the best time seeing that the Hurricanes were riding a seven-game win streak and also gaining traction with their power play with goals in four straight.
Still, the rest is welcome.
“These kinds of breaks pay off later,” Brind’Amour said. “You may not see anything right away, but just mentally getting away from it allows you to charge up for technically the second half of the year. … It’s a lot of wear and tear. So you got to manage that. You’re not gonna practice too much from here on out.
“So we’ll see. Every team’s pretty much got the same schedule, so it’s managing that. Obviously you want to stay healthy — that’s gonna be, I think, a major concern for most teams.”
5. I asked Waddell on Saturday morning about the status of Ondrej Kase, who hasn’t played since suffering a concussion in the season opener. Kase was practicing with the team in a yellow no-contact jersey last month but hasn’t been on the ice with the team in more than three weeks.
Czech reporter Jakub Koresis said Kase could, health permitting, play in his native Czechia next season, which led to speculation online that Kase’s NHL career is over.
Waddell said the team did send Kase home for a bit of a reboot in his recovery but that he expects the 27-year-old winger to be back the first week of March.
Kase is currently on LTIR, boosting Carolina’s available cap space to more than $10 million, according to CapFriendly.com.