There haven't been many times this year where the Hurricanes have been able to outscore their problems and get away with playing a sub-par game, but this was the case in their 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. On paper, this should have been a game that the Hurricanes shouldn't have had much trouble with. The Canes haven't been a great team this year, but the Sabres have kind of been in a league in their own when it comes to awfulness. They currently rank last in the NHL standings and only the Toronto Maple Leafs have been outshot at a higher rate during five-on-five play this year. Carolina has typically played teams like the Sabres well this year and this game looked like a good opportunity for them to build some confidence.
The final result was good, but the Canes had a very hard time handling the Sabres on Thursday night. Buffalo was able to carry the play for most of the first and second period and the Canes had a very tough time containing the Sabres offense, allowing sixteen scoring chances through two periods. Considering how much trouble Buffalo has had creating offense, the Hurricanes allowing Buffalo to do that much damage through two periods is concerning.
That said, the Canes weathered the storm thanks to some timely goals from a couple of their top players (Alex Semin & Jeff Skinner) and took over the game in the third period. Similar to what they did against Philadelphia, only they had to play from behind more. The game flow was actually eerily similar to the win over the Flyers if you look at who contributed to the win. The first line had another two-goal performance, both of which coming off the stick of Alexander Semin, while the second line did a phenomenal job of driving the play and the other two lines did their best to stay above water with Nash's line producing the game winning goal in the third period.
Against a superior opponent, Carolina probably wouldn't have come away with a win. They took advantage of the mistakes made by the Sabres and played their best hockey in the third period, which probably isn't going to get it done against stronger defensive clubs so the Canes will need to tighten things up going forward. Playing the second half of a back-to-back on the road likely didn't help the Canes in this instance, but they have a few more of these on their plate and will have to get used to these situations no matter what. Still, a win is a win.
Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
Carolina traded chances with the Sabres early in the game and actually got off to a bit of a rocky start, giving up the first goal after Jay Harrison mishandled the puck at his own blue line. They did a fairly good job of keeping up with the Sabres after that, despite slightly being on the losing end of the possession battle. Buffalo kind of took over in the second period, though. They carried most of the play and had a stretch where they had six unanswered scoring chances. Khudobin didn't have his best night at all, but he had to do plenty of work to keep this one within reach and the Canes took advantage of that by getting a goal late in the second period. Unfortunately, they kind of flatlined after that and didn't pick it up until the third period after Buffalo took the lead.
The good news is that the Canes took over in this frame and came away with three unanswered goals to show for it. I expected Carolina to do a better job of controlling the play against a weak Sabres team, though. I'm not sure if it was the back-to-back or what, but the Canes looked sluggish for most of this game and gave Buffalo a little too much room to work with. Scoring five goals will mask some of your flaws.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Jordan Staal +6
Worst EV Forward: Tuomo Ruutu -4
Best EV Defensemen: Andrej Sekera & Justin Faulk +1
Worst EV Defensemen: Jay Harrison & Mike Komisarek -2
The first line went into March 2013 mode, where they were outplayed and hemmed in for most of the game but scored on half of the four scoring chances they did create. Again, a similar performance to the Flyers game. They were due for some puck luck, but I'd like to see them create some more chances because they struggled to control the play at even strength this game.
This was no such issue for Jordan Staal's line, who were excellent in both games of the back-to-back. Skinner's goal in the first period was the only tally they produced, but the Hurricanes outchanced their opponents 13-3 during 5v5 play when Jordan was on the ice, most of that coming against Giroux & Hodgson's lines respectively. I tend to give Jordan a pass for his counting stats and his play in this back-to-back are a reason why. I would expect for him to produce more points with Skinner & Lindholm on his wins now, though.
Scoring the game-winning goal was former Sabre, Andrej Sekera who had a wonderful performance in his return to Buffalo. It is really impressive to see how his offensive game has evolved this year and his goal was a fine example of that. Not only did he show some great patience by waiting for Riley Nash to screen the goalie, Sekera also did a great job of quickly moving to the center of the ice to get a better shooting lane instead of just firing a shot from the point. Oh, and his release seems to have gotten a lot quicker and it could make him an even bigger threat on the power play. He and Faulk once again carried the defense and it's pretty much a nightly task for them at this point, especially when both Harrison & Komisarek are in the lineup.
Sabres Individual Scoring Chances
Sabres On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Philip Varone +3
Worst EV Forward: Zemgus Girgensons -2
Best EV Defenseman: Christian Ehrhoff +3
Worst EV Defensemen: Mike Weber & Jamie McBain -1
I'm a little surprised at Girgensons' numbers because I thought he was one of Buffalo's best players in this game. He was very noticeable in the first period and was responsible for three of their early scoring chances, one of them coming on a shorthanded breakaway. However, his line with Steve Ott & Cody Hodgson did take a lot of defensive damage in the third period, when the Canes were controlling most of the play.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Rough night for the first line, losing the battle to Buffalo's third line and getting crushed by the Ehrhoff/Sulzer defense pairing. The second line's performance somehow made upf or this, as they dominated Buffalo's first line and create a few chances when Ehrhoff & Suzler were on the ice. Buffalo won most of the other matchups but that's what happens when one line produces half of your team's scoring chances.
5v5 Zone Entries
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Jordan did the bulk of the work in the neutral zone on the second line and it's a shame that he didn't come away with this game with any points. Hell of a performance from him. Also, Tlusty had a quietly impressive game int he neutral zone for his standards.
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This was one of the best games I've seen Buffalo play in the neutral zone this year, carrying the puck in on almost half of their 5v5 entries. Hodgson & Stafford were both very impressive here and Ville Leino also did some good work in limited action. Also standing out is Christian Ehrhoff's three carry-ins, which is more than Carolina's entire defense corps had.
5v5 Zone Exits
Not much to complain about with Carolina's zone exits other than Liles having a sub-par game. He was the only one outside of the top pairing that was heavily relied on to lead breakouts, so his struggles hurt the team a little. Aside from that, a pretty solid game all-around.
Exiting the zone is the one area where Buffalo had a lot of problems. They had trouble completing passes and were forced to ice the puck eight times, half of them coming courtesy of Mike Weber. The Sabres actually have some decent skilled forwards on their roster, so they can hurt you in transition if you're not careful. Getting to that point is a challenge for them, though and it's easy to see why here.