Raleigh - January 8, 2015 -
Who: Carolina Hurricanes
Where: PNC Center, Raleigh, NC
Know thine enemy: Incredible as it is, there is another team that is as offensively inept as the Buffalo Sabres and that just happens to be the Hurricanes. Part of that has to do with injuries early in the season (mostly to Jordan Staal), but they are just wholly underwhelming.
Jeff Skinner can’t seem to snap out of his year-long funk, netting just eight goals and 16 points through 35 games so far this year. For a guy with 40-plus goal potential, that’s a huge drop in production for a team that can’t afford to have that performance out of one its best players. Alex Semin also continues to be a huge disappointment, with just one goal in 22 games this year. At least Eric Staal, the team’s leading scorer with 11 goals and 24 points, is coming to life, having scored four goals in his last five games. Defenseman Justin Faulk has been a nice surprise as well, sitting second on the team with 22 points and a team-leading 15 assists.
On the bright side, it looks like Cam Ward is coming to life in the Carolina crease. He’s got a 2.10 goals against average and .926 save percentage since November 1st and could find himself as a deadline trade target for teams needing goaltending.
About the Sabres: Hoo boy, the bottom has fallen out on this group. They’ve lost nine of ten and their last five after a stretch that saw them go an incredible 10-3-0 in November and the early part of December.
The goaltending has come back to a realistic point, with Enroth (getting the start tonight) and Neuvirth looking merely adequate instead of superhuman as Enroth was during that 13 game stretch. The good news is that Tyler Myers and Josh Georges are healthy again, so the defense is improved, especially with Meszaros and Benoit being scratched.
Offensively, it’s somehow even scarier than it normally is. Gionta, Mitchell and Foligno are all out, leaving the lineup looking like a normal Amerks lineup: Phil Varone, Tim Schaller, Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick hold down spots. At least we’ll all get a good extended look at Mikhail Grigorenko to see just how far he’s come (he’s got a goal and an assist in pieces of 10 games this year).
On the whole, this team is being smacked hard by reality. The opportunities are disappearing and the goaltending is less than incredible and the team is feeling it.
The last time these two met: The Sabres started strong, holding a 3-1 lead in the early minutes of the third period before surrendering that lead within the final eight minutes. Fortunately, Matt Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons stepped up in the shootout to give the Sabres the 4-3 victory.
The part where I predict things: The battle of the inept might go to whoever scores first. When you can’t score goals, that first one can be enough to bury you sometimes. The Sabres know that all too well this season, as do the Hurricanes.
Part of me wants to just go with the hometown team, especially with Eric Staal looking like his old self of late, but the Sabres are bound to get one in over this stretch and there’s no better time than against the struggling Hurricanes.
Score: 2-1 Sabres
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