– Special teams made a difference in a big way, as the Carolina Hurricanes opened the 2014 NHL Prospects Tournament with a statement 6-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday.
The Canes netted three power-play goals en route to their first win of the tournament. Forward Phil Di Giuseppe scored two goals (and came inches from a hat-trick), and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic made 34 saves, as he appeared in his first game action as a Hurricanes prospect.
“I was pretty excited coming in, this being my first time here,” Di Giuseppe said. “It was good to get that first win with the guys.”
“I liked the way we competed. We took some hits to make plays,” head coach Jeff Daniels said. “I thought we took advantage of our chances to score goals. Ned played real well and made some good saves.”
The Canes were outshot 35-20 by a Sabres squad that featured nine of their first- and second-round draft picks, but Nedeljkovic showed why he was selected 37th overall by Carolina this summer.
“He’s very calm. He makes the saves he’s supposed to make,” Daniels said. “He didn’t look rattled in there.”
“Going in I was a little nervous and anxious to get going, but I was pretty comfortable with where I was,” Nedeljkovic said. “The guys around me really helped me, keeping me calm and focused on the game. All the credit to them; they did a great job, too.
“I saw nothing but pucks. The guys did a great job of clearing out for me,” Nedeljkovic continued. “When the puck was loose or I gave up a bad rebound, they had sticks tied up. They made my job a lot easier, so a lot of credit to them.”
While the outcome denoted dominance, the game didn’t begin in such a manner, as a defensive zone turnover led to the Canes being hemmed in their own zone.
The team settled down, though, and scored the first goal of the game on the power play not too much later.
“I think it’s good to get the first game under your belt with the nerves and what not, especially that first shift we kind of got on our heels,” Daniels said. “We can enjoy the win and get better tomorrow.”
“[Nedeljkovic] was making some amazing saves out there, keeping us in the game from the first shift when they had us hemmed in,” Di Giuseppe said.
To their credit, the Canes took advantage of the opportunities given to them, whether on the power play – Brock McGinn, Alex Aleardi and Di Giuseppe scored on the man advantage – or defensive-zone turnovers, which Di Giuseppe jumped on in the third period, picking the corner.
“We haven’t worked on power play or PK,” Daniels said, noting the team practiced just once before jumping on the ice for a game today. “We told the guys to use their hockey sense. That’s what we want to see. We want to see who can think the game. On the power play, those guys are out there for a reason: to make plays and see what they can do, and they showed that.”
Daniels, behind the bench this week with the prospects and in the same position in Charlotte, got a good look at what Di Giuseppe, the Canes’ 38th overall (second round) pick in 2012, can do.
“He has good speed, and the puck seems to find him around the net,” said Daniels, who will likely coach Di Giuseppe in Charlotte this season. “The second one was a goal-scorer’s goal.”
The Canes can enjoy their tournament-opening win, albeit briefly, as they’ll take on the Dallas Stars on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“In the first period we got ahead right away and got the jitters out of us,” Nedeljkovic said. “It was a great way to start off the tournament, so we just have to keep the momentum up and take it from here.”