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Gameday: Hurricanes vs. Sabres

Canes Look to Play Team-Oriented, Defensive Game

Friday, 11.18.2011 / 11:02 AM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Gameday: Hurricanes vs. Sabres

Even though the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t have a morning skate today, the message for tonight's game agains the Buffalo Sabres was made clear yesterday: focus.

Michael Smith
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“The challenge is not to focus on anything more than one thing, and to get that focus on one thing throughout your lineup,” head coach Paul Maurice said.

The focus for tonight? Defense.

In their last three losses, the Canes have surrendered 14 goals, an average of 4.67 goals per game. Their season average sits lower at 3.47, but that’s 29th in the league. Cam Ward has been chased from the net twice in just over a week, decisions that were based more on how the team in front of #30 was playing.

With Ward and the rest of the team visibly and notably frustrated, expect the Canes to play a team-based, defensive game tonight. On Wednesday in Montreal, the Canes allowed 32 shots in just two periods of play before limiting the Canadiens to just four shots on goal in the final period.

“We just have to play as a team. That’s our plan for tomorrow,” Alexei Ponikarovsky said after practice on Thursday. “We’re just going to shut it down defensively, and that’s going to help us create opportunities offensively.”

“Clearly, we’ve struggled defensively, but it seems like we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the offensive parts to our game, getting offensive players going,” Maurice said. “We weren’t a good team [Wednesday] night in any parts of the game, and our focus has to be on each player playing that good, solid defensive game.”

The coaching staff has tried numerous combinations on Eric Staal’s line in an attempt to get the slow-starting captain back on the scoresheet. It worked to some degree, as Staal had three points in two games before the team was held scoreless by Montreal, but the focus of the team can’t be solely on one player.

“The message from him and every player is the same – they put their personal game aside and not look at [tonight] as a breakout game, and he’s done that,” Maurice said.

In trying to generate offense, the Canes have come off their defensive game which seemed to be yielding positive results in the early stages of the season. Maurice said disjointed play is the first thing he has noticed in the team game; rather than moving off the first guy with the puck as a cohesive unit, each player is trying to do his own thing in hopes of putting the puck in the net. This has led to defensive breakdowns and numerous odd-man rushes.

“We’ve got a number of players searching for their game. When you struggle, you get more and more players doing that,” Maurice said. “And the problem becomes when those games are different games. Then you’re not playing a good team game. You’re not playing a focused, team hockey game. And I think that’s what’s happened to us here.”

As a team, the Canes will look a little different tonight coming off a player swap with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League.

Forward Zac Dalpe was reassigned yesterday to the Checkers. That roster move freed up a spot for Anthony Stewart, who will re-enter the lineup tonight after being a healthy scratch in the last three games. Yesterday in practice, Stewart skated on a line with Staal and Chad LaRose. Maurice said Zach Boychuk may also get a look with Staal.

Defenseman Justin Faulk was recalled from Charlotte yesterday, as well. This move suggests roster changes on the back-end. Derek Joslin and Jamie McBain have been scratched off and on this season, but Maurice gave no indication of who might come out of the lineup.

In any case, in order for the Canes to succeed tonight and in games ahead, they have to play a smart, team-oriented game, no matter who is in the locker room.

“You’ve got to be confident with who you’ve got in the locker room or you’re not going to go anywhere,” Ward said. “But it’s that compete and fight level that you’ve got to bring every single night.”

Tonight, a Buffalo Sabres team minus goaltender Ryan Miller comes to town. Miller was injured Saturday in a match-up with the Boston Bruins when Milan Lucic delivered a questionable hit. Goaltender Jhonas Enroth played most of the Sabres’ last game on Wednesday versus New Jersey, but he was pulled midway through the third period in a 5-3 loss.

Enroth backed the Sabres to a crucial 2-1 overtime win over the Canes on April 3 of last season. In that game, his only career game against Carolina, Enroth made 35 saves on 36 shots.

Though tonight’s game is in November and not April, it carries similar weight to last year’s late-season, playoff-like match-up. Knocking on last place in the Eastern Conference, the Hurricanes are facing a barrage of questions and need a win. An inspired team effort at home against an intra-conference rival could be the answer they are desperately searching for.

“You can turn this thing around in a heartbeat. We’re not that far off,” Poinikarovsky said. “We can’t just give up and not do anything about it. We have to stick together, play together as a team, play for each other and battle hard, and that’s going to do it.”




1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69


J. Skinner 82 28 23 -2 51
V. Rask 80 21 27 -6 48
J. Staal 82 20 28 6 48
E. Lindholm 82 11 28 -23 39
J. Faulk 64 16 21 -22 37
K. Versteeg 63 11 22 -6 33
E. Staal 63 10 23 -3 33
J. Nordstrom 71 10 14 1 24
A. Nestrasil 55 9 14 4 23
R. Nash 64 9 13 -5 22
C. Ward 23 17 10 .909 2.41
E. Lack 12 14 6 .901 2.81