The Buffalo Sabres visit the Carolina Hurricanes still running ragged from a Ted Nolan Practice. Their season largely over, the team is reduced to a band of individuals trying to prove themselves for future considerations. Still, the Carolina Hurricanes have that mix of bad history and old teammates that made the first two matches between these teams entertaining tilts. In their final match of the season, fans can still hope that the Sabres play a punchy game as spoiler against a Hurricanes team clawing for a spot in the wild card playoff race.
The teams split their first two matches this season. The most recent game saw the Buffalo Sabres win 3-2 at home in the first game for both teams after the Olympic break. Right now, the Hurricanes probably miss those points in the standings. They sit 8 points out of the last wild card spot. With only 17 games left, the numbers suggest Carolina will have to go on a serious run to even have a chance with their limited window.
A loss to the Sabres would be a death knell for a team in such need. There is no pair of points that should be more attainable than those found hosting the worst team in the league.
Regardless of opponent, the Hurricanes will be playing do or die hockey tonight and this will be a good experience for the younger Sabres players. They’ve played much of this season against backup goaltenders and teams taking them lightly. The Hurricanes can’t afford to do such and will respond accordingly. Maybe a Sabres team fired up to at least not do bag skates can learn something from playing in such a game.
In that same vein, it would be nice to see Ted Nolan try some new things. He had his old coach moment when he sweated his players after a bad loss. Now let’s see some new tactics and a new approach. The Sabres play such a shell defensive style. They sit back and keep their forwards back while the other team holds the puck, which limits the chance for odd man rushes. The Sabres have a few guys who could make a nice play on an odd man rush if the team ever got one and this might be a good game to try something new.
The Hurricanes will surely come out roaring in the first period. They’ll want to snuff Buffalo out before the game gets started. They’ll come hard on the forecheck and put lots of pressure on the defensemen. What if the Sabres decided to hang one forward back around the blue line or beyond against such a rush? In so doing, you either force someone to cover that forward, which relieves the pressure of the forecheck, or you get the puck to him and send him on a break.
Instead of turtling up and hoping to only get outshot by fifteen this game, let’s see the Sabres try to turn that opposing aggression into opportunity the other way. Sure, it’s plenty risky, but only for a team with anything to lose. Buffalo’s season is over, but they can still learn how to fight and win games in tough situations, which is a good lesson for any young player in this league. If anything, watch for that fight in the team tonight, but also watch to see if they’re trying anything different as far as tactics go.
Michal Neuvirth will get the start for Buffalo while the Hurricanes have not yet confirmed Anton Khudobin as the starter. Fans can watch the game on MSG at 7PM. This will be the first game for Buffalo of an eight game stretch in which the team will play seven road games.