February 26, 2013; Tampa FL, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Cody Hodgson (19) shoots during the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa Times Forum. The Sabres won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Knee Jerk Reactions: the Buffalo Sabres versus the Carolina Hurricanes

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off their best week so far this season, the Buffalo Sabres played game two of a four-game road trip at the PNC Arena against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight.

It wound up being a tale of two teams, as the Sabres played a little bit of Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll as they fell to the Hurricanes 4-3.  I mean, it literally felt like there were two teams out there on the ice, with each team getting to play half of a hockey game.

First, there was the Buffalo Sabres team that couldn’t get any shots on goal to test Carolina goalie Justin Peters, who was starting his first NHL game this season in place of the injured Cam Ward.  This version of the Sabres managed only six shots on goal in the first twenty minutes, and around the halfway point of the second period they had still only thrown nine shots at a kid who had just been called up from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL!  Talk about making it way too easy on this guy; Buffalo spotted him nearly a 30-minute warm-up that allowed him to get past his nerves and settle into his comfort zone.  And, while they were making life easy for Peters, these Sabres were making life miserable for Ryan Miller, as they spent what seemed like the entire first period unable to clear the puck out of their zone, including  a sequence only 90 seconds into the game that led to Jiri Tlusty scoring the first goal of the game for the Hurricanes.

And then, almost exactly halfway through the second period, a different Buffalo Sabres team began playing, and things started to get interesting.  Suddenly, nine shots through the first 27 minutes became 22 shots by the end of the second frame.  Ultimately, the Sabres actually out shot Carolina 40-28 for the game, a statistic that boggles the mind.  You would have gotten your face slapped and your butt kicked out of my house if you had even thought to make such a bold prediction during the first period.  To say the Sabres turned it up a notch at the midway point of period two is the understatement of the week; they opened the floodgates and turned it up about seven notches, and really put Carolina on their heels, as evidenced by the fact that the Hurricanes’ high-powered offense only managed four measly shots on goal in the entire third period.

I don’t know how a team that looked like they were in a never-ending penalty kill goes from terrible to full-on beast mode midway through a game, but I can tell you this: the Sabres need to keep tonight’s game in the back of their minds.  If for some reason the Sabres miss the playoffs, they should be made to watch video of this game pretty much every day during the off-season, so they can burn into their minds how maddeningly inconsistent they were.  On the flip side, if the Sabres do manage to make the playoffs, they should return to this video to remind themselves of the type of team they can, and need to, be in order to be successful.  Carolina is the number one team in the Southeast Division for a reason: they’re good, if their current four-game winning streak means anything (hint: it does).  Yet, here were the Sabres, dead last in the Northeast Division and third-to-last in the Eastern Conference, taking it to the Hurricanes for 33 minutes straight.   When the Buffalo Sabres play like they did in the second half of tonight’s game, they are a playoff-contending team, no doubt about it.  They just have to find a way to play like this all the time.  How do they do that, you ask?   How the hell should I know?  I’m just a writer – I have the easy job!  Ron Rolston, you’re going to have to solve this mystery, and soon.  Like, Thursday.

Stick tap to TJ Brennan, for scoring his first goal of the season tonight, a much-needed power-play goal that cut a two-goal deficit down to one late in the the third period.  Gotta give a big ol’ bear hug to Cody Hodgson, though, for being a man among boys out there on the ice.  Two goals for CoHo, the second of which was a short-handed goal with under a minute to play that made every Carolina player on the ice look like giant, red cones that had been set up for a skating drill.  Sick move.    Kudos also must be given to Steve Ott, who continues to make Darcy Regier look like a genius for once, and Mikhail Grigorenko, who took advantage of his eleven minutes of ice time by creating some nice scoring opportunities, including a pass that slid right across the goal mouth and which should have been a gimme if it had not been Drew Stafford on the receiving end.   No offense, Drew, but I’ve seen my kid tap in passes like that, and he’s seven.

Tonight’s game may have been a loss, but damn it, it was a fun game to watch!  Cross your fingers, break out your rabbit’s feet, perform your voodoo rituals – do whatever you have to do in order to get the good Sabres to show up for all 60 minutes of Thursday’s game in New Jersey.   Before you leave, check out CoHo’s disgusting effort, and as always, thanks for reading!

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