Could there finally be light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel for the beleaguered defense of the Carolina Hurricanes?
After missing nearly two weeks of action, Ethan Bear seems likely to return to the lineup tonight as the Hurricanes host the Buffalo Sabres. Bear’s positive test prior to Thanksgiving triggered more frequent testing for the rest of the team, testing which snagged Brett Pesce and Tony DeAngelo and knocked them out of the lineup for the Canes’ last two games.
However, yesterday at practice Rod Brind’Amour said that both Pesce and DeAngelo were not symptomatic, which is a big deal: if they remain that way, they will be able to return to action after two straight days of negative tests, rather than needing to sit out the entire ten-day isolation period. Neither will play tonight, but the Canes could be back to full strength sooner than anyone thought.
Of course, none of that matters much if the Hurricanes can’t start putting pucks in the opposing net. Thursday’s loss to Ottawa was a throwback to the dark days of the mid-2010s, when the Hurricanes would pile up a ridiculous shot advantage yet lose the game. Perhaps a matchup against the Sabres, second-worst in the NHL in goals against and 4th-bottom in shots against, is exactly what they need to get right. But then again, the only team worse than the Sabres in both of those categories is... (checks notes) uh, the Senators.
The Canes did not skate this morning, but they did practice yesterday, and here’s how they looked:
Nino Niederreiter - Sebastian Aho - Teuvo Teravainen
Seth Jarvis - Vincent Trocheck - Martin Necas
Steven Lorentz - Jordan Staal - Jesper Fast
Andrei Svechnikov - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Derek Stepan
Jaccob Slavin - Ethan Bear
Brady Skjei - Ian Cole
Max Lajoie - Jalen Chatfield
Injuries and Scratches: Jordan Martinook (ankle), Brett Pesce (Covid protocol), Tony DeAngelo (Covid protocol), Brendan Smith (healthy)
A funny thing happened on the way to the Buffalo Sabres’ pursuit of the first overall draft pick: they are actually…not abysmal?
I mean, as long as the Arizona Coyotes (who are fully committed to the tank) exist, the Sabres were always going to be confined to second place, at best. But they have been bolstered by unexpectedly strong play in goal, led by the ageless Craig Anderson and Dustin Tokarski, who you may remember as part of the platoon that won the Calder Cup for the Checkers in 2019.
Unfortunately for the Sabres, neither of them will be playing tonight. Anderson is out for the next month with an upper-body injury, while Tokarski is one of a handful of Sabres goalies who is or has recently been in the Covid protocol. Malcolm Subban, acquired from Chicago earlier this week, will make his first start for the Sabres tonight.
The Sabres, if you can believe it, actually have more players in double digit scoring than the Hurricanes. Tage Thompson, long derided as a bust after being part of the return for Ryan O’Reilly a few years ago, has cooled off after a hot start, and old friend Jeff Skinner has decided that this would be an “on” year for him in the production department. The Hurricanes may well find themselves in a track meet tonight, and if they can’t shake out of the scoring doldrums they might find the road rather bumpy…again.
Here’s how the Sabres will line up:
Jeff Skinner - Tage Thompson - Victor Olofsson
Brett Murray - Dylan Cozens - Kyle Okposo
Zemgus Girgensons - Casey Mittelstadt - Rasmus Asplund
Anders Bjork - Cody Eakin - Vinnie Hinostroza
Rasmus Dahlin - Robert Hagg
Jacob Bryson - Henri Jokiharju
Mark Pysyk - Colin Miller
Injuries and Scratches: Alex Tuch (IR shoulder), Drake Caggiula (IR upper body), Dustin Tokarski (IR Covid protocol), Craig Anderson (IR upper body), Mark Jankowski (healthy), John Hayden (healthy), Will Butcher (healthy)
Referees: Conor O’Donnell #41, Ghislain Hebert #22
Linesmen: Mark Shewchyk #92, Ryan Galloway #82