There will be plenty of fanfare at the First Niagara Center as the Buffalo Sabres open their home schedule against the Hurricanes after a five-day layoff tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Buffalo, currently 2-0-0 and tied with Toronto for the Northeast Division lead, have enjoyed a five-day layoff as they recuperate from their trip to the NHL Premiere. Carolina is fresh off their first victory of the season, a 3-2 triumph over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.
A pre-game plaza party will take place outside the First Niagara Center as there will certainly be some fireworks in store for those holding a ticket for the first home opener in the Pegula Era. There is a chance the hoopla surrounding the first game may end up being distracting, but there is no reason for Buffalo to come out flat. Between the five-day break, the brand new locker facilities and the momentum they built with their two convincing victories in Europe, the Sabres should have little trouble finding energy for this game.
Carolina has struggled a bit as the season opens up. The Canes have managed three out of a possible eight points and have allowed at least four goals in all but one contest. They should build off their win over the defending Stanley Cup champs and the fact that they held the Sabres attack at bay in the 2010-11 season series.
The Hurricanes didn’t do much to upgrade their roster in the offseason, bringing in a trio of ex-Maple Leafs (Tim Brent, Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky) and promoting some youngsters. Between the pipes is where the Canes will win this game. They boast two goaltenders – Cam Ward and newcomer Brian Boucher – who have a good history against Buffalo.
Buffalo will likely ice the same lineup they had in Europe, with Matt Ellis, Jochen Hecht and Mike Weber as the scratches. The Sabres potent line up will be foreign to the Canes and could create matchup problems early in the contest.
Buffalo’s three scoring lines against the Carolina defense. The Canes have plenty of forwards that are capable of serving in a checking role. However, they have three defensemen under the age of 25 and at least 50% of the blueline would fall under the offensive defenseman classification. If the Sabres can exploit the last change to get their skill players against a non-checking line, they should have success in generating offense.
BUF: Ryan Miller 2 GP, 2-0-0, 1.50 GAA, .952 SV%
CAR: Cam Ward 3 GP, 1-2-0, 3.35 GAA, .885 SV%
2010-11 Season Series: BUF 2-1-1
BUF 2-0-0 4pts (T-1 NE), PP 3/8 37.5% (2), PK 6/7 85.7% (T-15)