Put bluntly, Saturday’s Carolina Hurricanes game against the Buffalo Sabres is the kind of game that the team needs to win. By no means is any single game ‘must win’ in November, but one has to believe that being above, below or at the cut line approaching the finish late in late March or early April will depend significantly on capitalizing on opportunities.
Saturday’s game is one of those in multiple respects. After a solid five-game point streak, the Hurricanes had the positive run snapped with a disappointing loss on Thursday against the Islanders. Saturday represents an important opportunity to cut the losing off before it even starts and before the plus 3 above .500 that was gained during the five-game stretch is lose. The game also sees the Hurricanes practicing and resting at the hotel today while the Sabres must play in Detroit and then travel home for the second half of a back-to-back on Saturday. Finally, the Buffalo Sabres are struggling to put things together. They have been somewhat better in November with a 2-2-4 record, but they still come into the game ahead of only Arizona in the full NHL standings and ranked 30th in the league for goals scored and 29th in the league for goals allowed. And to top things off, the Sabres have been hit by a wave of injuries which has their roster a bit depleted right now.
Put more simply, the Canes need a win. The schedule provides a small physical advantage. And the opponent is not playing well right now.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Buffalo Sabres
1) Jump, intensity and tenacity out of the gate and across 60 minutes
The physical advantage of back-to-back situations is more of an opportunity to be seized than a gift that is given and automatic. Especially early in Saturday’s game, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes start on time with a pace and intensity level that suggests that they are going to use whatever physical advantage they might have to push the Sabres physically for the full 60 minutes.
2) A return to form defensively
The Hurricanes defense had been pretty sound and solid for a run of games heading into Thursday night against the Islanders. That streak was broken when the Hurricanes had a series of individual decision-making breakdowns by the defensemen. The string of miscues led to breakaway or odd man chances off the rush for the Islanders. On Saturday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes blue line and team defense in total can rebound quickly and get back to the generally solid hockey from prior to the loss.
3) Another round of calm from Cam Ward or a bounce back from Scott Darling
I have not seen official word on a starting goalie for Saturday’s game (someone holler if I missed it and/or post it as soon as it is official on Saturday), but I expect Peters will return to Cam Ward. With a back-to-back set with the first on the road and the second at home, I expect Peters to give Ward the first start just like he did with winning results last week. In five starts, Ward has only one bad outing on his record which is impressive for a backup who faces the challenge of staying sharp despite minimal game action. If Ward does in fact get the start, I will be watching to see if he can again bring the calm and composure which the team could use after a sporadic effort on Thursday. If Darling starts instead, I will be watching the net equally closely to see if he can rebound after a tough outing on Thursday.
4) Leaders rising up
Per the introduction and also the first point, Saturday’s game is one that the team really needs to go out and take aggressively. Doing so requires leadership to step up and set a tone and a mentality for games like this. On Saturday, I will be looking for the team’s leaders to set the tone early and push the team to follow.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.