Buffalo Sabers (18-17-4) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (13-21-7)
RBC Center, 7 p.m.
I said earlier that you have to take risks to be a successful franchise and head coach Kirk Muller is doing that tonight by putting Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen on the first line with Eric Staal. Why is this risky you ask? Because these three are our best offensive players currently in the lineup and if they get shut down, there isn’t much behind them and it’s going to hurt the team’s offense a lot. However, this line has three of Carolina’s leaders in scoring chance percentage and present a threat whenever they are on the ice, something the team has lacked all season. Jokinen & Ruutu’s line with Jeff Skinner was the closest thing to a big offensive threat we had all season and I guess Muller is tired of these wing experiments with Eric Staal and wants to put him with two proven goal-scoreres instead. Ruutu and Jokinen are the most proven wingers we have right now and have worked with Staal in the past, so this works.
If you remember Jokinen’s 30 goal season, he was attached at the hip to Eric Staal for most of the year so maybe tonight is the night where he finally snaps his goal drought. We just need to hope that this line produces because after them there isn’t much. Our second line tonight will probably be our usual third line of Bowman-Sutter-LaRose and while they are a solid unit, none of them are proven top-six commodities so I’m going into tonight with a lot of skepticism.The Sabers defense is banged up right now so that may have influenced Muller to load up the top line.
Lines & more after the jump
Jokinen – Staal – Ruutu
Bowman – Sutter – LaRose
Ponikarovsky – Brent – Tlusty
Stewart – Sutter42 – Stewart
Faulk – Harrison
Gleason – McBain
Allen – Spacek
Vanek – Hecht – Pominville
Gerbe – Roy – Stafford
Boyes – Adam – Kassian
Ellis – Gaustad – Kaleta
Leopold – McNabb
Weber – Regehr
Grangani – Myers
What happened last time?
Carolina was shutout 1-0 by Jhonas Enroth and they spent most of the game doing all they could to get something past him but it just wasn’t working. It was actually one of the better games that Carolina played this season despite the final score so you could say that we have played the Sabers well this year and have a lot to feel confident about with this game.
I also mentioned that the Sabers defense corps is plagued by injuries and while that is true, they are getting Tyler Myers back tonight but according to Daily Faceoff, they are looking to use him in a limited role. I wonder if that will change if they want to get a good matchup against the Staal line. The key players they are missing from the blue line right now are Christian Ehrhoff and Andrej Sekera (moreso the former) and this seems like it will hurt their powerplay a lot but they do have a solid offensive defenseman in Marc-Andre Grangani who might be able to hold the fort down.
Their forward corps is currently without Villie Leino and Tyler Ennis with the latter being the bigger loss as they have Jochen Hecht playing on their first line now in his place. Their first line is still putting up a lot of points regardless of that but a lot of it related to luck as both Pominville and Vanek aren’t exactly driving the play as much as they should be. Gerbe, Roy and Stafford appear to much stronger possession-wise but it is probably best to still keep a strong eye on Vanek & Pominville as they are point-per-game players this season. The Sabers have a pretty balanced forward corps any way you want to slice it and they should be a good test for Faulk/Harrison as they continue their showcase on the top defense unit.
- Poor Alexei Ponikarovsky. He’s been one of our best possession players but just hasn’t been able to score this year and he’s not being demoted to a line with Tim Brent and Jiri Tlusty, whch means he might be stuck in the same situation that he was in Los Angeles. Although, it’s possible that Muller might be rolling the lines a bit differently tonight and these three could see some more playing time.
- Anthony Stewart is fighting for ice time right now and the high shooting percentage is helping his cause as 20.6% of his shots have been goals this year. You can only ride the good luck train for so long but it is worth mentioning that he’s been a positive corsi player in three of the last four games.
- Speaking of shooting percentages, Brad Boyes’ on-ice shooting percentage is 1.6% with the score tied. I thought his 40 goal season with the Blues was a fluke but he certainly isn’t this bad.
- Like I said earlier, the third and fourth lines are going to be fighting for ice time and it will probably depend on if the Canes get an early lead or not. Coaches are usually more likely to spread things around when the game isn’t on the line and this worries me because we could be stuck rolling only two lines in a close game if Muller elects to not use Brent that much.
- Bowman, Sutter & LaRose are the de facto second line tonight but that probably doesn’t excuse them from their defensive assignments since Muller has the last change tonight. Expect them to see a lot Vanek & Pominville although, we can’t let Derek Roy’s line go unguarded either because, as I said earlier, those three have been very good this season at driving possession and have a good amount of scoring upside. Brent, Ponikarovsky & Tlusty make a capable defensive unit on paper so I think it’s worth a shot to put these three in that kind of role.
Enjoy the game.