Tracking the Storm: Analysis
-- Sticking with the plan has been a common theme throughout the season for the Carolina Hurricanes, and tonight they typified that mantra. The Canes fired a season-high 55 shots on goal, topping the Buffalo Sabres 4-2. Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty put the puck past Michal Neuvirth, and former Sabre Nathan Gerbe added the empty-netter with just a second left on the clock to seal the team’s second straight victory. “I thought we did all the right things throughout the whole game, and we stuck with it,” forward Jordan Staal said. “The final result finally came through. It took us awhile, but we kept generating, kept going at them and got the result in the end.”
-- This is the type of game that would have easily been a maddeningly frustrating loss. After two periods, the Canes had 61 shot attempts, including 35 shots on goal and 15 attempts blocked, to Buffalo’s 29 shot attempts (16 shots on goal). Yet, the score was tied at one. Then, about nine minutes into the third period, a bounce in front of Cam Ward swings in the Sabres’ favor, and they took a 2-1 lead. “Tonight was a good example: I think the guys did a good job of not getting frustrated. We talked after the second period and said, ‘Let’s take a big breather and get our rest. Let’s stay focused and play the same way; it’s going to take 60 minutes tonight,’ head coach Kirk Muller said. “So there wasn’t any frustration. The guys really kept slugging it out and waiting for that one opportunity.”
-- That one opportunity was a power-play goal off Semin’s stick on the Canes’ fifth man advantage of the night. The game-tying goal, it was timely and simple, as Semin blasted a shot toward the net, and the puck bounced off defenseman Mike Weber’s foot and in. “I learned a long time ago: sometimes it’s percentages, and sometimes it’s when you score the goal and when you kill a penalty. That was a big power-play goal,” Muller said. “The chances are there, and the shots are there.”
-- Just two minutes after Semin tied the game, Tlusty found the back of the net for the eventual game-winning goal. Tlusty took a pass from Semin, who was stationed along the boards, walked into the slot and snap-wristed one top-shelf. “It was a good effort. We stayed with it,” forward Eric Staal said. “When you’re creating a lot of opportunities, sometimes you can get down and frustrated, but tonight we continued to attack and knew that we would eventually break them.”
-- More Eric, on the play of his brother’s line (Tlusty-J. Staal-Semin): “I’m fine with you guys calling them the first line, too. It’s OK. … They were good,” he said. “Both of our lines controlled the puck very well and created a lot of looks and opportunities.”
-- Muller on the play of his top two lines, which combined for eight points (3g, 5a) tonight: “The so-called kids are playing well. Skins is scoring again … and Lindy has really elevated his game since the Olympic break,” he said. “The chemistry is there. Eric is feeding off of them, and it’s really helping. Now we’ve got two lines that are really contributing.”
-- Somewhat quietly, Cam Ward again didn’t have to face much. He stopped 21 shots in his second straight victory, the first time he’s won back-to-back games since Nov. 24-27. “It’s not easy for goalies when you don’t get a lot of shots. Cam has a history of doing really well when he gets a lot of shots in a game,” Muller said. “He made the saves when we needed them.”
-- Not to belabor this point, since it ultimately didn’t matter, but: Tyler Ennis got the Sabres on the board first, as he went blocker-side high on a penalty shot. Let’s back it up to that play. Ennis was sprung on a breakaway, as the Canes had no high support. Tlusty was the lone man back and did a solid job on the back-check. Instead, the official whistled for a penalty shot, ruling Tlusty had slashed Ennis and denied him of a quality scoring chance. It was not a play worthy of a minor penalty, much less a penalty shot. Tlusty and, subsequently, the Canes were penalized for what was a legal play.
-- Some random notes: Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the Canes won 47-of-64 (73.4 percent) faceoffs tonight, their highest percentage since March 21, 2002, when they won 74.3 percent against Florida. They did so tonight without top faceoff man Manny Malhotra, who was a healthy extra. … With a goal and an assist, Semin extended extended his point streak to six games (tying season-high) and his assist streak to five games (tying career-high). … J. Staal has totaled seven points (2g, 5a) in his last four games.
-- Up next for the Canes: a 1:00 p.m. game in Boston on Saturday followed by a 3:00 p.m. game versus Edmonton in Raleigh on Sunday. “Desperation. We need them,” E. Staal said. “We know where we’re at, and we need to win.”
Carolina goalie Cam Ward made 21 saves for the Hurricanes for his eighth win of the season.
Buffalo goalie Michal Neuvirth was outstanding, stopping 51 shots for the Sabres (19-39-8), who have lost four in a row.
After Sabres forward Drew Stafford broke a 1-1 tie at 8:43 of the third period, Semin tied the game 2-2 on the power play at 11:48 with a shot off the skate of Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber. It was the Hurricanes' second power-play goal in the past 10 games.
Tlusty followed with his 12th of the season to put Carolina on top with a shot from the slot at 13:43.
The Sabres scored first midway through the first period on a penalty shot by Tyler Ennis. After Tlusty tied him up on a breakaway, Ennis skated in on Ward and used a high forehand for his team-leading 17th goal at 10:22.
The Hurricanes answered 2:58 later when Jeff Skinner scored from below the right faceoff circle for his team-high 26th of the season.
The Sabres lost defenseman Alexander Sulzer on his second shift of the game. Sulzer, who missed the previous two games with a lower-body injury, went to a knee after being pinned along the end wall and did not return.
Neuvirth kept the Sabres even in the second, when Carolina raced to a 22-4 advantage in shots. Acquired prior to the NHL Trade Deadline from the Washington Capitals, he had to make a half-dozen big saves. On the penalty kill, he stopped a bid from Andrei Loktionov with his left pad, then gloved a wrist shot from Drayson Bowman on the rebound. Neuvirth later snatched a close-range wrister from Skinner.
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