The Sabres successfully swept the NHL Premiere Series, leading the team to a 2-0 record. Thomas Vanek has come out of the gate on fire, which isn’t all that surprising. What is surprising is the performance of Luke Adam, who has four points in two games. The Sabres hope to carry their success over from Europe into tonight’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes have gotten off to a rocky start, winning only one of their first four games. They got their first win Wednesday night against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins. The Hurricanes will try to capitalize on their success against Boston and the fatigue that the Sabres may be suffering because of jet lag from traveling across the country.
Offense: Offensively, the Sabres are averaging four goals a game. While that’s good, we can’t expect that to continue. The Sabres will run into good defensive teams, and Carolina is certainly one of them. Cam Ward is one of the most underrated goalies in the NHL, and the Sabres might have trouble getting puck by him. However, the defense for Carolina is rather unimpressive. Look for continued success of the Pominville-Adam-Vanek line (aptly named the Adam’s Family line, recently) until teams figure out a way to stop them. Drew Stafford seems to be getting more and more comfortable with his linemates, Derek Roy and Nathan Gerbe. We can’t expect the lines to always stay the same, though, as Lindy Ruff stated the other day that he’d like to shift some lines around to see if he can get any more scoring from lines other than the first.
Carolina brings in a team that is scoring 2.25 goals per game over four games. Scoring goals seems to be troubling for them, scoring no more than three in any game this season. Eric Staal has three points in his four games, while Jeff Skinner is continuing upon the success of his rookie season with five points. Carolina has a big challenge ahead of them to score any goals against a revamped Buffalo defense that is living up to the hype.
Defense: The Sabres defense is looking just as good on the ice as it did on paper. Christian Ehrhoff contributed offensively with an assist in Europe, while Robyn Regehr has lived up to his storied physicality, registering seven hits and four penalty minutes, while blocking nine shots. Marc-Andre Gragnani, thought to be on the bubble and the defensman who would be sitting out to start the season behind Mike Weber, has played well enough to keep Weber out of the lineup. That’s not to say Weber deserves to be out, but the defense is playing very solid right now, and it would be foolish to take anyone out of the lineup. Ryan Miller is looking like a world beater in front of this defense, posting a .952 save percentage to go along with a 1.50 goals against average in his two starts.
The Carolina defense, again, isn’t all that talented. They signed Tomas Kaberle over the summer, who so far has registered just one assist and is a -3 for the Hurricanes in four games. Kaberle isn’t looked at as a defensive defensman, so he’ll have to pick up his production sooner or later to earn his spot on the team. Bryan Allen has two points on the season, and has blocked a team-leading 15 shots and is a +3. Tim Gleason is arguably the Hurricanes’ best defenseman. He leads the team in +/- with a +5 at the moment to go along with 3 assists. The Sabres shouldn’t have a hard time generating offensive chances against this defense, though. While Cam Ward is underrated, his stats tell the story that he might be overvalued. In three games, Ward has a horrific .885 save percentage along with a 3.35 goals against average. Backup goalie Brian Boucher allowed four goals in an overtime loss to the Capitals last Saturday. Considering his history against the Sabres, there’s a chance he could start.
Special Teams: The Sabres’ power play looks to be in good shape, as they’re currently second in the league, converting 37.5% of their powerplay attempts, going scoring three goals on eight attempts. The penalty kill isn’t as good, killing off 6-7 penalties for just an 85.7% kill rate, although that is on a paltry amount of chances for the opposition.
Carolina’s power play also has produced three goals, but it took them 18 attempts to do that. They’re converting 16.7% of their attempts, good for 13th in the league. The penalty killing unit, on the other hand, is horrendous, killing only 16 of 21 penalties, 76.2%. Carolina’s penalty kills ranks 25th in the league.