Score: Hurricanes 5 | Sabres 1
Shots: CAR 34 | BUF 30
Buffalo Sabres Goals:
1) Tuch (Jokiharju)
1) Aho (Teravainen, Svechnikov)
2) Noesen (Necas, Kotkaniemi)
3) Burns (Kotkaniemi, Chatfield)
4) Stepan (Noesen, Chatfield)
5) Martinook (Staal)
Minus 1: Twisting in the Wind
The first period was about as ugly as it gets. The passing was horrid, breakouts ineffective, special teams detrimental. The only Buffalo player that seemed to show up in the opening was January’s “Rookie of the Month”: Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Despite his best efforts, the Canes earned a three-goal lead. The Aho and Burns back door tap-ins were particularly hard to swallow for Sabre fans hoping to see their team utilize fresh legs against a team that played an overtime game the night before. Other than a great shot from Alex Tuch, the film from that first is better off used as fertilizer.
Minus 2: Thompson’s Early Night
Buffalo fans were concerned when they found out that Tage Thompson was absent from practice this week with a day-to-day injury. They were downright distressed to learn that he would not return to the game after slowly making his way to the locker room at the end of the second period. He was absent to start the third and was ruled out with an “upper body” injury shortly thereafter. The only saving grace is that there are 10 days before the next Sabres’ game. Thompson should be held out of the All-Star game to maximize his rest and recovery time. The season is far from over, but if Thompson is limited or misses significant time, the uphill battle to the playoffs will become vastly steeper.
Plus 1: Quinn’s Impact
While Alex Tuch was the Sabres best forward all night, Jack Quinn stood out as well. The 21-year-old forward had a couple dangerous chances to score including a semi-breakaway and a one-timer from the faceoff dot. These were two of the Sabres best chances to score all night. Beyond the scoring opportunities, Quinn was able to keep up with the pace of play which had been a struggle for him and fellow rookie JJ Peterka. In the past, the increased game speed and limited space to maneuver stifled their effectiveness on the ice. However, against the Canes, Quinn found success leaning on defenders to protect the puck and wait for passing lanes to open. He also showcased his hands by making moves in stride when breaking into the zone to put defenders on their heels while maintaining puck possession. These are traits that will help him and his linemates succeed as the intensity of the playoff race ramps up.
This game was reminder of how difficult it is to beat the top dogs in the NHL no matter the circumstance. Carolina was playing their 3rd game in 4 nights and had to fight back the previous night against the Kings to secure an overtime victory. The Sabres were coming off 3 days of rest, playing at home and had reinforcements rejoin the lineup in Samuelsson and Cozens.
Unfortunately, the hole they dug themselves with their abysmal first period proved to be too much to overcome. The rest of the game was relatively even, particularly in the 2nd when Buffalo having some extended offensive zone time against tired Carolina defenders. Raanta was excellent in net and the Canes forecheck was relentless.
Fortunately, the All-Star break could provide the opportunity for Buffalo to, finally, rest and recuperate after playing 15 games in January. This is the closest the Sabres have been to a playoff spot at this stage of the season since 2011. The last 32 games of the season should be a wild ride.