As the season winds down and teams battle for playoff positioning, tonight’s Carolina-Columbus game is set to have huge playoff ramifications. Both teams currently hold the last two wild card spots with just two points separating them, although the Hurricanes do have a game in hand.
The Hurricanes have been a completely different team since they acquired Nino Niederreiter in mid-January. They’ve been one of the best teams at generating scoring chances all season, but they couldn’t convert to save their life, posting a 3.8% true shooting % (% of shot attempts that turn into goals, not just shots on net), good for last in the NHL.
Since Niederreiter has been added to the lineup, that number has skyrocketed to 5.6%, 7th in the league. They went from one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL to one of the best and have posted a 16-5-2 record with him in the lineup, good for second in the NHL in that span, with only the juggernaut Lightning doing better.
Despite some of the league’s best defensive play over the last few weeks, Columbus’ duo of Sergei Bobrovsky and Joonas Korpisalo have had some sub-par performances that, combined with the team’s lack of offense, has led to a 4-5-0 record since the trade deadline.
It sure seems that, given their recent play, the edge has to go to the Hurricanes tonight. They’ve played playoff-caliber hockey for the last two months and seem to be firing on all cylinders. They’ve also had three days of rest heading into tonight, one more than the Jackets, but with huge playoff implications should come great hockey for both teams.
Things haven’t been as rosy lately for the Jackets. I’m not going to dive too deep into their play since the deadline because I’ve already done so here, but their offense has ground to a halt since the deadline. They’ve averaged a paltry 2.22 goals per game, which is lower than the 31st-ranked Ducks’ season-long mark of 2.25. They’ve been solid defensively in that span, but goaltending has been a weakness once again.