Carolina Hurricanes at Buffalo Sabres
Friday, January 25, 2012 - 7:00 pm EST
First Niagara Center - Buffalo, NY
TV - Fox Sports Carolinas HD Radio - 99.9 The Fan
Broadcast Note: Thursday's game will not be broadcast on the regular Fox Sports Carolinas stations in the local viewing area due to a prior conflict. Sports South will carry the game; Sports South is a standard channel on Dish Network (452) and DirectTV (647SD/647-1HD), and TWC will move the broadcast over to their "overflow" channels (520SD/1520HD in the Triangle).
Despite starting the short season with two losses, determination continues to outweigh panic in head coach Kirk Muller's message to the team at Wednesday's practice, with a focus on intensity, team toughness, winning competitive battles, and strong defensive coverage. Muller also took the blame for early line shuffling, which was partly necessary to cover Zac Dalpe's absence, but also created a favorable defensive match-up against Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis in the game against the Lightning Tuesday night.
Dalpe is expected to return to the line-up tonight with Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. Jiri Tlusty has been moved to Eric Staal's line, a position where he enjoyed success and good chemistry with Staal the elder last season.
Defenseman Jamie McBain has been a healthy scratch for the first two games and one assumes he is due for his shot on the blueline soon. Muller said all seven defensemen would be considered for tonight's roster, but that no decision would be made until today's morning skate.
In net, Cam Ward is coming off a two-game performance that can't be described as anything other than disappointing. According to Chip Alexander in the N&O Canes Now blog, Ward slammed and broke his stick in frustration during one practice sequence yesterday. With the back-to-back scenario, it's expected that Dan Ellis will likely get the start in at least one game, but that is another decision that won't be made until later today. Ward is 8-6-3 with a 2.83 GAA and two shutouts in 17 games against the Sabres; Ellis has only one appearance against the Sabres that dates back to 2008.
Special teams also continues to be a focus area; the Canes showed improvement Tuesday night against Tampa Bay, moving the puck better and creating more opportunities, with the lone goal coming from Jeff Skinner on the power play. Michael Smith featured the special teams improvement yesterday in his Tracking The Storm blog on the Hurricanes website.
Following are the lines as the team practiced on Wednesday.
Jiri Tlusty* - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin
Jeff Skinner* - Jordan Staal - Zac Dalpe*
Drayson Bowman* - Jussi Jokinen - Chad LaRose*
Patrick Dwyer - Tim Brent/Jeremy Welsh - Kevin Westgarth/Zach Boychuk*
Tim Gleason - Justin Faulk*
Joni Pitkanen - Bobby Sanguinetti*
Jay Harrison - Joe Corvo*
***UPDATE*** Corvo out, McBain in with Pitkanen, Sanguinetti with Harrison (from pre-game skate)
* change from last game
Out: Tuomo Ruutu (injured non-roster, hip injury)
The Sabres come in to Raleigh riding the momentum of a 2-0-0 start. They were spectators on opening day, then reeled off consecutive wins on Sunday and Monday against the Flyers and Maple Leafs. They practiced in Buffalo yesterday before flying to Raleigh.
Forward Thomas Vanek leads the league in points (6) and has the Sabres' top line chemistry clicking with Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson. Expect a lot more toughness with the addition of forwards Steve Ott and John Scott.
Forward Nathan Gerbe may return to the lineup during this series. Gerbe had back surgery during the off-season and would have to be cleared by team physicians in order to return to the lineup, but he was able to participate in a full practice on Wednesday. If Gerbe makes the roster, expect Ville Leino to be moved to IR.
In net, Ryan Miller stole the show Monday night against the Leafs and was two minutes shy of a shutout, making 34 of 35 saves before letting in a late third period goal. Miller is 12-7-4 lifetime against the Canes with a 2.66 GAA in 23 career appearances. It's been hinted that backup netminder Jhonas Enroth will get the start in Raleigh, resting Miller for the home game on Friday. Enroth has only started two games against the Hurricanes, but both are wins with one shutout.
While the Hurricanes and Sabres have never conducted a trade between their two franchises, there are a couple of connections. Defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, now with the Checkers, was drafted by the Sabres and has the distinct honor of scoring his first NHL goal in an overtime game-winner against the Hurricanes in Raleigh on April 3, 2011. Behind the Buffalo bench, assistant coach Kevyn Adams is well-known by Canes fans for his years in Carolina, including valiant efforts during the 2006 Stanley Cup Championship season.
The Sabres depth chart:
Tomas Vanek - Cody Hodgson - Jason Pominville
Marcus Foligno - Tyler Ennis - Drew Stafford
Steve Ott - Mikhail Grigorenko - Jochen Hecht
John Scott - Matt Ellis - Cody McCormick
Tyler Myers - Robyn Regehr
Christian Ehrhoff - Alexander Sulzer
Andrej Sekera - Jordan Leopold
Ryan Miller - Jhonas Enroth
Brian will have more analysis on our opponent later in the day, and we'll start the game thread at 6:30 pm. See you at the rink.