Shorthanded Hurricanes snap their skid in big way against Jeff Skinner and the Sabres

·5 min read

After struggling to score — and struggling to win — for two weeks, the Hurricanes were hoping a pair of games against teams within shouting distance of the NHL basement might snap them out of whatever funk might have settled into the locker room.

A swing-and-miss effort against Ottawa on Thursday prompted coach Rod Brind’Amour to publicly preach patience in his postgame remarks.

The team did not miss twice.

Playing from in front for the first time in more than a week, the Canes scored early, weathered a hard-luck moment late in the first and piled on late to skate away with a 6-2 win over the struggling Buffalo Sabres at PNC Arena on Saturday night.

And the Hurricanes did it with a lineup cobbled together from a roster battered by COVID-19, injuries and an ill-timed penalty.

While defender Ethan Bear returned from his COVID-related time off Saturday, Jordan Martinook (lower body) and Andrei Svechnikov (upper body) were scratched from the forward group and two other defenders remained in the league’s COVID-19 protocols, leaving the Canes to dress seven defenders and 11 forwards.

It didn’t seem to matter much.

Vincent Trocheck had a goal and two assists before he was tossed from the game after a 5-minute major penalty for boarding, Sebastian Aho had three assists and Teuvo Teravainen had a pair of goals to lead the way for Carolina, which recorded its 16th win and 33rd point of the season.

Here are four observations from Saturday’s game:

Playing with a lead

After scoring his 100th NHL goal Thursday — ending a long drought sitting on 99 — Teravainen wasted no time adding No. 101 to his list Saturday. Racing through the slot on a zone entry, Teravainen was all alone when Aho spun from his forehand to his backhand on a puck behind the cage and fed his streaking countryman for the snipe.

The Canes added to their lead at 13:59 on another successful zone-entry play. This time, Seth Jarvis drove hard over the blue line, spun to his right and fed Martin Necas. With a lane to the cage, Necas deked Malcolm Subban to the ice and wrapped around the net hard to his forehand side. He stuffed the puck through a diving Subban’s paddle for a goal.

With that first-period scoring, Carolina had a lead in a game for the first time in more than a week. After defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 6-3 on Nov. 26, the Canes fell behind early to the Capitals last Sunday in a 4-2 loss. They also fell behind early against the Stars in Dallas on Tuesday, and at home against Ottawa on Thursday.

With an early lead, the Canes controlled the center zone, and were more patient with the puck instead of pressing for an equalizer.

The early goal also forced Buffalo to open up on the back end to try and find an equalizer. The early lead also allowed the Canes to absorb a tough break in the first period’s final minute, when Henri Jokiharju’s point shot found its way in.

And leading early isn’t just for show. This season, the Canes are now 8-1-0 when leading after the first period, and 9-2-1 when scoring first overall.

The good and bad for Trocheck

Trocheck was having one of his better nights of the season for the Canes on Saturday. He had a goal and a pair of assists and won seven of his 12 draws — including one that directly led to Ian Cole’s first goal with the Hurricanes on an offensive zone gem.

Then, with 2:13 to play in the second period, things got complicated. On the backcheck, Trocheck chased down Buffalo center Tage Thompson on the half wall. As Trocheck lined up to drive Thompson into the boards, the 6-foot-6 Buffalo forward ducked and turned to avoid the hit. As the players collided, Thompson went head first into the dasher and remained on the ice. Former Hurricane Jeff Skinner charged in from behind the net to grapple with Trocheck.

Officials assessed Trocheck a 5-minute major and game misconduct, which resulted in his expulsion from the game and handed the Sabres — trailing 5-1 at the time — a 5-minute power play, on which they scored once.

Limited minutes for Bear

Ethan Bear has been cleared to play since Thursday, but the Canes held him out of the team’s game against Ottawa that night for conditioning purposes. He practiced fully on Friday, and was a game-time decision Saturday.

With a late scratch to Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina dressed seven defenders, including Bear, but the Canes clearly limited Bear’s minutes. He saw just 2:31 of ice time in the opening period, while Jalen Chatfield — recalled from Chicago to help fill the gap on the blue line — logged nearly eight minutes in the first alongside stalwart blueliner Brady Skjei.

Bear again saw limited time in the second — another 4:01 — and in the third he reached 10 minutes played, lowest among the team’s regular defenders.

Late-period woes

The Canes were fortunate to be playing from in front most of the game, allowing them to absorb a pair of late-period goals in what is often referred to as the “vulnerable minute” — the first and last minutes of play in any period.

In the first, with a 2-0 advantage, Buffalo got a goal back when a Jokiharju shot from the point deflected off a body in front of Antti Raanta and fluttered past his left shoulder, cutting the Canes’ lead in half.

A pair of quick strikes in the second gave the Canes a bit of a cushion. Cole scored his first of the season — and first as a Hurricane — at 3:44 on a clean faceoff win by Trocheck and a blast from the right point that beat Subban clean. Twenty-four seconds later, Trocheck made it 4-1 when he drove to the net and snapped the puck past Subban on a bad turnover in front by Jacob Bryson.

But after Trocheck’s penalty, Buffalo gave itself hope with a power play goal in the first half of their 5-minute power play when Zemgus Girgensons deflected the puck past Raanta on a point shot.

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