Game 3: A Not So Special Home Opener

As I predicted, last night’s home opener was a close game. The Canes edged the Sabres 4-3 with a late power play goal by Jeff Skinner. Both teams played fairly even at even-strength. The Sabres generated 26 shots on goal at even-strength with one goal to show for their efforts while the Canes also only scored one goal on 18 even-strength shots on goal.

The difference in last night’s game was something that anyone could figure out just by looking at the box score: Special teams. Buffalo was unable to capitalize on any of their six power play chances and in the process, they gave up two short-handed goals, which is completely unacceptable. Vanek and Gragnani were the main culprits on both of those shorties. Throw in the late power play goal by Carolina and you’ve got 3-0 margin in special teams goals in favor of the Canes.

Fortunately, the Sabres problems on special teams last night are very correctable, so fans shouldn’t worry too much about the future.

There were some positives though. Miller was great despite what the scoreboard may say. He was thrown to the wolves by his team on all four goals. I really liked the Gerbe-Roy-Stafford and the Ennis-Leino-Boyes lines. Both of them, especially the latter line did a good job with puck possession. The only problem with them (and the whole team for that matter) was that they continued their old ways from last season. They were way too cute at home and did not shoot the puck as much as they needed to. Buffalo needed to simplify things a lot more last night. I also liked the way McCormick went after Allen after he decked Pominville. You’ve got to love Gaustad clobbering Gleason last night too. It really riled up the crowd.

Strangely enough, the only forwards I had a problem with were Vanek and Adam. Vanek was awful after his first few shifts, despite getting a goal, playing a prominent role in helping the Canes score on both shorties. Luke Adam looked every bit like the player who wasn’t quite ready to make the jump from the AHL to the NHL. He skated like his skates were made out of lead on backchecks and he didn’t generate much offensively.

On defense, Jordan Leopold was easily the best defenseman on the ice. He played well in every zone, racking up a +2, one assists, and 21:22 of TOI. Ehrhoff, Myers and, Regehr were all good as well, just not quite as good as they were in the first two games. Myers in particular had an awesome rush that led to Stafford’s game-tying goal at the time. Unfortunately,  he also helped give it back by overcommitting on the Canes power play goal. Sekera had a solid game, moving the puck up the ice well when he had the chance and not allowing the Canes to generate much offensively. His decision-making in the offensive zone still has room for improvement though. Gragnani’s night was pretty much a failure since the main reason that he’s in the lineup is for his power play prowess and well, you all know how that went. I’d like to see Weber get a crack at playing. It would be nice to have another physical defensive-defenseman in there to help balance things out on the blueline.

As far as the Canes go, you’ve got to tip your hat to Cam Ward. He’s one of the more underrated goalies in the league because of the team he plays on, but for my money, he’s right there with Miller,  Thomas, Lundquist, and Price in the east. Carolina has to be concerned about barely squeaking out a win, despite the Sabres charity on special teams. You aren’t going to get breaks like that every game.

Buffalo’s next game is tonight at Pittsburgh at 7 PM. Enroth will get the start in goal and Mike Weber will be a healthy scratch for Gragnani again. The team will have to play a smarter, more disciplined game if they want to beat Pittsburgh tonight, who is very dangerous despite not having Crosby and Malkin in the lineup. The latter player will miss tonight’s game due to injury, most likely stemming from pain from the scar that he got from his surgery last season.

NHL Scoresheet

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