After a few days off, the Buffalo Sabres are back in action for a home-and-home series against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Sabres take their new-look, tough-as-nails look down south to face a Hurricanes team that's been beaten badly en route to a 0-2-0 start.
Game #3 -(2-0-0) @ (0-2-0)
Puck Drop - 7:00pm - PNC Arena - Raleigh, NC
TV - MSG, SPSD Radio - WGR 550-AM
Leafs Blog - Canes Country (Please play nice if you're going to visit.)
The Sabres have started hot, with their top line catching fire and their tough guys (and not so tough guys, Drew Stafford) standing up for their teammates. It's a refreshing change of pace from season past, and the team's highs have been enough to cover up their few disappointments (Tyler Myers, second line, we're looking at you.) Still, it's a very young season, and things good or bad can change on a dime.
Three Questions For The Enemy
1. The Hurricanes have been spanked in their first two games, losing by a combined score of 9-2. What's the deal?
Put simply, the Canes look like a team that was just assembled for the first time last week. Uncertainty in the defensive pairings, drop passes to no one, reluctance to shoot the puck, soft goals against, you name it. The Canes have always been a slow-starting team, and it seems like that trend is continuing this season, but with the condensed schedule a prolonged slow start could be devastating to the team's chances to make the playoffs. The home-and-home with the Sabres should be a good marking point. Come away with three points from the two games and they'll probably be OK. Any less than that, with games against the Bruins and Senators on the schedule next week, and they could be in real big trouble.
2. What was the reaction in Carolina to the high profile moves of acquiring Jordan Staal and Alex Semin this offseason?
You mean aside from the speculation that Jim Rutherford would immediately trade the rest of the roster for Marc Staal, move the team to Thunder Bay and play 4-on-20 in every game? Expectations were immediately raised, and with new minority ownership partners having been announced earlier in the year it was refreshing to see the Canes spend money, especially on a player like Semin who would have been a pipe dream in earlier offseasons. The result was an excitement going into the season that was merely delayed, not eliminated, by the lockout, which of course immediately had a Niagara Falls-sized bucket of cold water splashed on it after the opening weekend. That said, any team that can throw out a power play with Eric and Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Semin and Justin Faulk (or Joni Pitkanen) is going to be a whole lot of fun to watch, and while the team hasn't clicked yet there have been flashes of brilliance that the Canes hope will become more numerous sooner rather than later.
3. Will the 'Canes challenge for a playoff spot this year?
That depends on two major questions. First, when will they dig out from the early-season doldrums? If it's soon, then fine; we're probably talking about at least a 7-seed in the Eastern Conference and a relatively comfortable playoff spot. If it takes a while, especially with a six-game road trip looming when the circus comes to town the first week of February, it will be a dogfight. Second, can the Canes overcome a patchwork defense? In the first two games Kirk Muller has used different pairings in each game, and a third set of pairings is likely to take the ice Thursday night, with Jamie McBain possibly seeing his first action of the season. The Canes need their defense corps to be more than the sum of its parts, and if it doesn't get straightened out in a hurry it's entirely possible to see the Canes' blue line being the team's Achilles heel that counteracts all the firepower they added up front.
Vanek - Hodgson - Pominville
Foligno - Ennis - Stafford
Ott - Grigorenko - Gerbe*
Scott - Hecht- Kaleta
Myers - Regehr
Ehrhoff - Sulzer
Sekera - Leopold
Goal: Jhonas Enroth*
Scratches: Leino, Weber, Brennan
Zach Boychuk - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin
Jeff Skinner - Jordan Staal - Zac Dalpe
Jiri Tlusty - Jussi Jokinen - Chad LaRose
Drayson Bowman - Tim Brent/Jeremy Welsh - Patrick Dwyer/Kevin Westgarth
Tim Gleason - Joe Corvo
Joni Pitkanen - Justin Faulk
Jay Harrison - Jamie McBain
Goal: Cam Ward