Jan 4, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (10) and goalie Ryan Miller (30) celebrate a victory over the New Jersey Devils at First Niagara Center. Buffalo beats New Jersey 2 to 1. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Sabres Pregame Skate #43: Carolina Hurricanes

Jan 4, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; NHL referee Gord Dwyer (19) talks with Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (30) during a stoppage in play against the New Jersey Devils at First Niagara Center. Buffalo beats New Jersey 2 to 1. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Weather permitting, the Buffalo Sabres (12-26-8) and Carolina Hurricanes (18-16-9) will play at First Niagara Center in Buffalo. As the first blizzard in over twenty years settles over Buffalo, both teams stand in town, awaiting word on whether they’ll play on Tuesday night or a future night. Either way, the stakes are the same in the first of three meetings between the Sabres and Hurricanes this season.

With such loyal, raucous fans, it’s hard to believe the Buffalo Sabres haven’t won six straight home games since a span that started in January 2007, but this unlikely bunch stands to do just that with a win tonight, or whenever they play their next home game. While most of the franchise history made by the 2013-14 Sabres team has been negative, this game stands as a chance to add a positive note to the first year of Buffalo’s earnest rebuild.

Even with a mere 18 wins in 43 games, the Carolina Hurricanes stand in the thick of the race for one of the top three spots in the ultra-bad Metropolitan Division. While there is plenty of time to gain on their opponents, the points don’t come any easier than those found against the team with the worst record in the league. This game is a must win for a team mired in the middle of the pack.

Dec 31, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes defensemen Andrej Sekera (4) takes 2nd period slap shot against the Montreal Canadiens at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The game will also feature a return of two players to face the franchise that drafted them. Jamie McBain of the Sabres and Andrej Sekera of the Hurricanes were swapped in a deal that saw a second round pick go Buffalo’s way as well. The Sabres used that pick on forward prospect JT Compher. Sekera will play his first game since being selected to the Slovakian Olympic Hockey Team.

The key matchup in this game will be the struggling Sabres offense against the Hurricane defense lead by Anton Khudobin in net. Khudobin is 5-0-0 on the season and his last three games since a return from injury have seen him average a 1.99 GAA and .947 save percentage. Buffalo sports the worst offense in the league, but their team effort and improved defensive play have kept games close, which is all they’ll need against a less than overwhelming opponent.

While Carolina has the offensive firepower to beat teams on paper, they still have the 23rd most goals/game in the league. Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner have had little offensive support for their point per game play aside from a surprising appearance by Sekera, who sits at third on the team in points with 24. That might be enough for Carolina, except Staal is currently out with injury. Both teams will likely struggle to score so it will be up to goaltender Khudobin to hold off a home team that’s earned at least a point in its last eight games in Buffalo.

Tyler Myers will serve his first of a three game suspension after his high hit on Dainius Zubrus. The game will be broadcast on MSG Network at 7PM ET. Anyone planning to attend the game is encouraged to pay attention to news outlets on the status of the storm and the game. And please, whether it’s to home or the game, travel safe everyone.

 

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