There was much to appreciate about how the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Buffalo Sabres last night. Jeff Skinner got things started early with a goal less than two minutes in to the game, Cam Ward was dialed in, and Justin Faulk continued to punch up his offensive touch that earned him an All-Star bid last year.
But with the good often comes the bad, and there were certainly some rough patches for the road team. Of course, a win is a win and two points are two points, but the bad habits they continue to nurse will haunt them down the road if they are not neutralized now.
As mentioned above, Skinner got the Canes started quickly and caught the Sabres napping a bit. Had Carolina started sluggishly—as they often do on the road—they could have found themselves even or worse at the end of the first period, with Buffalo coming on strong later in the game.
Every team looks for a quick start. Buffalo’s Twitter account even went out of their way to tweet about it...
...before having their next tweet be this.
Jeff Skinner opens the scoring for Carolina 1:44 in. 1-0.— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) December 23, 2016
But Carolina has found a way to score an early goal in two straight games, both against Buffalo, that allowed them to settle down quickly and play with confidence from the start.
Another great sign for the Hurricanes was Justin Faulk. His defensive play was as solid as we have come to expect over the past years, but the real joy to watch was his offensive involvement. By joining the rush and being willing to shoot the puck, he scored his third goal in four games, and his seventh point in seven games.
Faulk’s start to the season was remarkably quiet and left quite a sum to be desired, but he has turned it around recently and deserves credit for making the necessary adjustments to return to form.
The Not As Good
First of all, a game in which the Hurricanes only give up one goal is a fine game. But the goal they gave up was oh so painful to watch.
How's this for a setup from Reino? pic.twitter.com/RNKTsWH6uE— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) December 23, 2016
We saw this defensive look from Carolina during that crazy 8-6 win over Vancouver. The opponent carries the puck behind Cam Ward, two defenders go to the posts, and no one covers the man alone in the slot. Easy goal.
Can we establish that, uh, this is not working? Sure, send two guys to the posts. But the most important part of that tactic is neither of those two defenders, but the third man who must be responsible for the slot. Here, Lee Stempniak leaves Johan Larsson all alone to cover Matt Tennyson’s position, but the latter does the same thing. The breakdown in communication gives Sam Reinhart an easy assist to Larsson, and leaves Ward out to dry.
If Bill Peters is adamant about this style, the team needs to understand how to communicate and cover individual responsibilities.
The Hurricanes also failed to put their opponent away when they had the chance. Four power play opportunities in the second period, including two in the last six minutes of the frame, came and passed for Carolina without a goal against the League’s worst penalty killing unit.
And in the third period, Buffalo used the momentum gained from all those kills to score and get back into the game. If the Hurricanes are to make the climb to a playoff position, they must be able to finish off their opponent when the opportunity(ies) presents itself. We have seen them get burned by awful third periods and missed chances, but they found a way to get the job done in spite of themselves last night.
At the end of the day, those are two very important points in the standings. The Canes are now seven points back of Washington for the second wild-card spot, and continue to climb. With Cam Ward maintaining his solid play and the players in front of him finding ways to gut out some wins, it could be an interesting final half of the season.
The Hurricanes return home to take on the Bruins at PNC Arena tonight.