While the Canes have been going through their best stretch of the season of late, the Buffalo Sabres are experiencing their worst.
Tonight’s visitors have just two wins in their last 11 games, including a current five-game winless streak. Carolina contributed to that run, having won in Buffalo just last Friday. Thanks to their strong start, the Sabres still find themselves atop the Northeast Division by way of a tiebreaker, but a hard charge by the Ottawa Senators should result in a desperate team on the ice tonight.
The recent struggles have resulted in some ice time adjustments, as defenseman Craig Rivet, the team’s captain, played a season-low 8:58 in Tuesday’s shootout loss to Boston
, well below his average of 19:07. Additionally, leading goal-scorer Thomas Vanek was dropped to a checking line
at Wednesday’s practice in an attempt to provide more scoring balance throughout the lineup and create match-up problems for the Hurricanes.
While acknowledging that the moves will prove somewhat tricky, Carolina coach Paul Maurice is confident that his forward lines are up to the challenge defensively, and that any of the top three units could serve as his primary “shut down” line if need be.
“It’s been a long time, probably since before Brandon (Sutter) came in, (that we played Eric) Staal against the other team’s best,” said Maurice. “We’ve kind of gotten away from that, and it’s been good because Sutter and Cullen’s lines have been pretty solid defensively.”
Maurice said there would likely be a bit of a feeling-out process early in the game as he works to identify which Sabres line looks most dangerous and which Hurricanes like looks most capable of slowing them down.
“That’s going to be our challenge,” he said. “We’ll find early in the game which line is going for us and try to work with that.”
Although Scott Walker practiced today in a normal red jersey rather than a non-contact version for the first time, Maurice reiterated his earlier stance that no injured players are likely to return prior to the Olympic break. Erik Cole continued to skate in a non-contact jersey, while Chad LaRose got some work in before the main group took the ice.
Manny Legace will start in goal for the second consecutive game, with Justin Peters set to start Saturday.