(Courtesy: Dave Sandford/Getty Images North America)
After two days, the Sabres return to action tonight with the first half of a home-and-home series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Hopefully the team made good use of their two day break between games because it’s their last such break for the next three weeks.
Buffalo enters tonight with a 2-0 record on the young season, — victories over Philadelphia and Toronto — and are looking for their best start in four seasons. They head to Raleigh, NC to face a Carolina team that has yet to earn a win this season, — loses to Florida and Tampa Bay — and is trying to avoid its worst start in 15 years.
Carolina has been outscored 9-2 in its first two games, and have been viewed as a major disappointment in the first few days of the season.
They were one of the most talked about teams during the offseason after they acquired Jordan Staal, brother of captain Eric Staal, in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and signed free agent Alexander Semin to a one-year, $7-million deal.
Based on the first two games, it’s clear that their two prize acquisitions are still getting adjusted to head coach Kirk Muller’s system.
On the Sabres side of things, everything has been clicking, for the most part, for the team in blue and gold.
They’ve gotten high-quality performances from Ryan Miller in their first two games, — it’s expected that backup Jhonas Enroth will get the start tonight — and the top line of Thomas Vanek, Cody Hodgson, and Jason Pominville has combined for 13 of the team’s 19 points.
The Sabres have had plenty of success on special teams so far this year which has been a key to their early season success. Another main reason for the team’s fast start has been their ability to physically stand up to their opponents.
They wanted to become tougher to play against, and they did. It’ll be interesting to see if they can stick with the grittier playing style through the duration of the condensed season, or if fatigue will set in quicker because of it.
Hurricanes Players To Watch:
In 17 career regular season starts against the Sabres, Ward is 8-6-3 with a 2.83 GAA and a .913 save percentage. Although his record doesn’t indicate it, Ward has been a bit of a thorn in the side of the Sabres. Especially over the past couple of years.
He is 4-0-2 and has a 1.98 GAA in his last six starts against the Sabres. However, so far this season, Ward has given up eight goals on 38 shots for a league worst 6.00 GAA. Still, the play of Ward will be the key to this game. If he’s allowed to get rolling and into a groove early, it could be a long night.
If there is one player that has had success against the Sabres during his career, it’s Eric Staal. The elder Staal has 27 points (9 + 18) in 32 career regular season games against Buffalo. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, Eric Staal has yet to record a single point for the NHL’s lowest scoring team.
The nine year veteran could be poised for a breakout game, or he could be on his way to yet another disappointing season.
Despite averaging 39 shots per game, the Hurricanes are the lowest scoring team in the NHL with just two goals in two games.
They are tied for third-worst in the NHL in goals against with nine in two games
Carolina is last in the NHL in save percentage, stopping just 82.4% of shots faced
Sabres Players To Watch:
Vanek has started 2013 on a barn-burning pace. With six points in two games, he leads all NHL skaters entering Thursday. When it comes to success against one team, Vanek’s team is the Hurricanes. The eight-year pro has 26 points (11+15) in 26 career games against Carolina, including five points in his last four against the ‘canes.
The Sabres number one pick in this past June’s draft is entering game three of his five game “trial” run before the team has to decide whether or not to let his entry level contract kick in. He has been skating on a line with Steve Ott and Jochen Hecht, but is expect to be between Ott and a returning Nathan Gerbe tonight. Grigorenko has looked more comfortable each and every shift on the ice, and just seems on the verge from his first breakout game.
Ryan Miller is tied for fourth in the NHL in goals allowed through two games
Buffalo was 2-0 last season heading into their third game, but lost to miss out on going 3-0. The opponent? The Carolina Hurricanes
Buffalo is 4-3-1 in its last eight vs Carolina
Jason Pominville has a goal in three straight games against Carolina, including two game winners
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