SB Nation Rival Blog: Die by the Blade
Hurricanes Record: 26-22-9 | 61 pts | 6th Metro | 12th EC
Sabres Record: 15-34-8 | 38 pts | 8th Atlantic | 16th EC
Games Remaining: 25
Minimum Points Needed for Playoff Contention: 91
Points Difference: 30 (1.20 pts/game)
Playoff Chances (Sports Club Stats): 26.7%
*Note: As we head down the season stretch I'm adding a playoff countdown snapshot to the game preview. 'Minimum points needed' are calculated based on adding one point to the projected points pace (points/games played x 82) for the last opponent in either the division or wild card spot.
Welcome back to the second act of the 2013-14 Carolina Hurricanes season. I hope all the Canes Country readers had a chance to grab some popcorn and a beverage during the intermission, because the action is getting ready to heat up. With 25 games remaining and 47 days left in the regular season schedule, the Canes are going to be playing at a pace greater than a game every other day.
The Canes and Sabres have the fortune of starting their post-Olympic schedule a day earlier than the rest of the NHL, owing to tonight's make-up game which was postponed after a polar vortex hit Buffalo on January 7th. This will be the second game of a three-game series. The Canes won the first game, 5-3 in Buffalo on January 23rd, with Alexander Semin tallying two goals, and Andrej Sekera logging his first career three-point night with a goal and two assists in his first return to face his former team.
The Sabres had lost four straight games heading into the Olympic break and were 2-7-1 over their last ten games.
The Sabres were represented in Sochi by goaltenders Ryan Miller (USA) and Jhonas Enroth (Sweden), defenseman Henrik Tallinder (Sweden), forward Zemgus Girgensons (Latvia), and interim head coach Ted Nolan (Latvia). Nolan and Girgensons arrived back several days ago, the other players were on the last charter from Sochi and did not practice yesterday.
Barring complication from jet lag, Miller is expected to start in net tonight. He is 12-9-4 with a 2.69 GAA in 25 career games against the Canes. Enroth is 2-2-0 with a 2.49 GAA and one shutout in four games.
John Scott, who skated as a defenseman in practice while Tallinder was in Sochi, is not expected to be in tonight's lineup. Scott was a subject of high drama at yesterday's practice when he snapped his stick and stormed off the ice after being dismissed by Nolan for fumbling the puck during practice [Buffalo Hockey Beat].
Practice lines (missing the Olympians) are in yesterday's practice report from [Sabres.com].
The practice report also includes comments from Matt Moulson, who goes into the trade deadline a pending UFA and therefore uncertain future. By the way, Moulson is a point-per-game player against the Canes with 20 points in 18 games.
The [Buffalo News] reports on the possibility of trading away captain Steve Ott, also a UFA at the end of the season.
The Hurricanes entered the Olympic break with a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in their last game but having won seven games out of their last eleven.
Today's game against the Sabres begins a five-game, ten-day road trip. From Buffalo, the Canes stop off in Dallas to take on the Stars Thursday night before kicking off March with three games against the state of California (Kings, Ducks, Sharks in that order). This just might be a pivotal road trip [CH.com].
Olympians Andrej Sekera and Alex Semin returned a few days ago and have a few practices under their belts already [CH.com]. Tuomo Ruutu did not practice Monday but joined the team in Raleigh for the flight to Buffalo. Justin Faulk flew directly to Buffalo and met the team there.
Regarding Ruutu, who was the only Hurricane to return with a medal, his Sochi stats were impressive: tied for second among all Olympic skaters with a (+6) rating and tied for third in assists (4). He was one of only three players to score a goal against Team Canada during the tournament, and averaged 15:47 in TOI.
The Canes have been practicing since Thursday and are ready to get back to playing, according to head coach Kirk Muller [Sunday and Monday audio]. There are no major changes to the lines from the last several games, other than the missing players returning from Sochi [depth chart]. Muller hasn't declared a starting goaltender, but Cam Ward commanded most of the work in the traditional starter spot at RCI yesterday.
Ward is 9-6-3 with a 2.84 GAA and two shutouts in 18 career games against the Sabres; Anton Khudobin is 3-1-1 with a 1.98 GAA and a shutout in five appearances.
A few more click-worthy items:
On Saturday the Canes players spent the day team building as the guest of the U.S. Special Forces at Fort Bragg. The day featured a youth hockey clinic, practice at Cleland Ice Rink, an autograph session for military families, and a team-building session with the Special Forces group featuring some heavy artillery. [Recap] [Photo-Lindholm and Nash] [Video-Khudobin] [Photo-Gerbe] [Photo-Autographs]
Down on the farm, Paul Branecky recalls the Albany River Rats bus crash, five years later, via chilling firsthand accounts from several who where there [GoCheckers.com].
Finally, before you leave the Olympics behind, take the time to watch an outstanding feature that aired on Saturday recounting the tragic Lokomotiv plane crash and the rebuilding of a hockey team. Note: this is an hour documentary, and you'll need to authenticate with your TV provider to watch. Also, tissues are advised. [NBC Sports].
We'll have the open game thread ready to go by 6:30 pm. See you there.