Eric Staal recorded his 13th career hat trick and Jeff Skinner scored twice to propel the Hurricanes past Buffalo, 6-3. Here's a closer look at Thursday's game.
1. Jiri Tlusty rightfully regained his spot on Carolina's top line, and it seemed to make a huge difference. Grouped with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin, Tlusty didn't come away with any points but seemed to be the glue needed to get the captain going. His versatility — he can finish or set up a goal, play down low or on the perimeter — makes him a perfect fit for the rangy Staal and ultra-skilled Semin.
2. It was a bounce-back night for Joni Pitkanen and Cam Ward. Both were roundly criticized for their efforts thus far this season, but seemed to regain form against Buffalo. Pitkanen was a team-best plus-4, registered two assists, and arguably made the biggest play of the night. With Buffalo pulling within one goal, 4-3, in the third, Pitkanen perfectly timed an offensive zone pinch and pilfered the puck from Jason Pominville. He then cruised below the faceoff dot and found Eric Staal with a cross-ice pass that the captain fired past Jhonas Enroth. As for Ward, he made timely stops and made just one mistake — allowing a rebound on a Jordan Leopold shot that Cody Hodgson deposited for Buffalo's first goal.
3. Jamie McBain re-entered the lineup and was impressive. His play seemed to stabilize Pitkanen, and he also had the nice stretch pass on Staal's first goal that gave Carolina a two-goal cushion in the second. The D pairings and lines seem to be taking shape, with the only real question mark being the third line — primarily, whether having Jussi Jokinen at center is the right play.
Number To Know
8 — Number of goals scored when the trio of Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Hodgson were on the ice. While they have been putting up points at an impressive rate — 18 combined through three games, including all of the Sabres' tallies Tuesday — Buffalo's top line was also exposed by Carolina's offense. All but one of Carolina's six goals were scored against them, including Justin Faulk's shorthanded goal that gave the Canes a 2-0 lead in the second period.
Jeff Skinner — The third-year pro maybe have had one less goal than Carolina's captain, but his two were most important. Skinner opened the scoring early in the second period with a nifty top shelf backhand — reminiscent of the goal he scored Tuesday vs. Tampa Bay — that gave the Hurricanes their first lead of the season. He then swung the momentum in Carolina's favor again, breaking a 2-2 tie with a stuff play that put the Canes ahead for good. Carolina's second line features Skinner's razzle-dazzle, and Jordan Staal's range, size and defensive prowess. It also opens up opportunities for Zac Dalpe to shine — his speed and shot will prove to be assets if his linemates continue to play as they did Thursday.
Tim Gleason — It's hard to find a negative on a night that was mostly positive, but if there was one thing that stood out it was Gleason being on his stomach for two of the Sabres' tallies. Gleason was inadvertently picked by Pominville on Hodgson's goal, then was fooled on the nifty pass by Vanek that set up Buffalo's final goal. While the Hurricanes struggled to contain Buffalo's red-hot top line, they also exposed them at the other end of the ice. Gleason didn't have a "bad" night, just not a great one.