The Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes will get together for their second meeting in less than a week. Last Saturday, in Raleigh, the Hurricanes prevailed in a 2-1 shootout victory. The game itself was a sloppy defensive battle as both teams were playing the second game of back-to-backs.
Tonight should be a different story. The Sabres haven’t played since Tuesday and the Canes haven’t played since they faced Buffalo last Saturday. They were scheduled to host the Detroit Red Wings on Monday, but the game was postponed due to poor ice conditions.
Both clubs appear to be headed in the right direction over their last ten games. Carolina has picked up points in seven of their last ten, while Buffalo has picked up eight points in their last ten contests. As the two teams look to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff race tonight is a big game for the standings.
The Hurricanes have the opportunity with a win to put some distance between themselves and the Sabres. They’ll also pull themselves within seven points of the Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division and the wild card race. Carolina needs to start picking up points quickly or they could be out of the picture soon with how well the top teams in the division have been playing.
For the Sabres they have the chance to jump Carolina in the standings with a regulation win tonight. They can also pull three points within the third place Boston Bruins with a win and Bruins loss against the Panthers tonight. That would certainly add some intrigue to the looming home and home series between the Bruins and Sabres to close out 2016 next week.
Carolina Hurricanes at Buffalo Sabres
Key Bank Center – 7 p.m. EST
Broadcast channels – MSG-B & FS-CR
2016-17 Season Series: December 17th – Hurricanes 2 Sabres 1 (Shootout)
Carolina Hurricanes – 13-11-7 – 33 Points
Road Record: 4-8-6
Hot Players: Sebastian Aho and Jeff Skinner
Key Injuries: Bryan Bickell
Joakim Nordstrom – Jordan Staal – Elias Lindholm
Jeff Skinner – Victor Rask – Derek Ryan
Sebastian Aho – Teuvo Teravainen – Lee Stempniak
Brock McGinn – Jay McClement – Viktor Stalberg
Ron Hainsey – Justin Faulk
Jaccob Slavin – Brett Pesce
Noah Hanafin – Matt Tennyson
Buffalo Sabres – 12-11-8 – 32 Points
Home Record: 7-6-3
Hot Players: Rasmus Ristolainen and Evander Kane
Key Injuries: Tyler Ennis
Matt Moulson – Jack Eichel – Kyle Okposo
Marcus Foligno – Ryan O’Reilly – Sam Reinhart
Evander Kane – Johan Larsson – Brian Gionta
Zemgus Girgensons – Derek Grant – Nic Deslauriers
Rasmus Ristolainen – Jake McCabe
Zach Bogosian – Dmitry Kulikov
Cody Franson – Josh Gorges
1) Evander Kane comes in red hot for the Sabres. He has six goals in his last six games and has scored a point in four straight. After returning from the rib injury and a slow start, Kane, has found his scoring touch. He’s scoring at a 25 goal per 82 game pace right now.
2) The Sabres are 2-2-3 against the Eastern Conference in the month of December. Over the last two months, they’re 5-7-6 against the conference. If they want to begin to climb the standings they need to be better than a .277 winning percentage against teams they’re chasing.
3) Cam Ward will be back in goal for Carolina tonight. He’s lost three of his past four starts against the Sabres. He’s allowed at least three goals in three of those games. Ward did only allow one goal in a victory last week. Buffalo needs to jump on him early and not allow the veteran goaltender to settle in.
4) Buffalo has given up the first goal of the game in five straight games now and have fallen behind by two or more goals in three of those games. While, they deserve credit for coming back and either winning or getting points in all but, one of those games. Getting off to a good start is essential tonight. Always playing from behind is not the best strategy to winning hockey games.
Coach Bylsma: Lehner starts in goal.
We need to be better at the start of games. That's a big focus. pic.twitter.com/a2j6OrbYy5
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) December 22, 2016
5) William Carrier appears to be a healthy scratch for the Sabres tonight. After starting off very strong, he has disappeared a little over the past week. Head coach Dan Bylsma may be trying to get him a night off and a view from the press box to see the game differently. Scratching the 22-year old forward in place of Nic Deslauriers will certainly remove a speed element from the roster. It’ll be interesting to see if that plays a role at any point tonight. If the Sabres do not intend to insert Carrier back into the lineup routinely he should be sent back to Rochester. Being a healthy scratch every night will do nothing for his development.
William Carrier and Justin Falk doing extra work with Sabres assistant coaches, so looks like they'll be the scratches against Hurricanes.
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) December 22, 2016
The Sabres have played well at home lately and can take advantage of a team that hasn’t played so well on the road this season. After letting a point get away Tuesday against Florida and for that matter a regulation win, the Sabres can’t make the same mistake tonight.
Scoring first is perhaps one of the most important keys to the game tonight. Carolina showed last week that they can lock it down pretty well defensively. If the Hurricanes get up by a goal or two, Buffalo, could be in for a difficult night.