TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN – One game into the 2014 NHL Prospects Tournament and the Buffalo Sabres know they have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to make it back to the championship game. Buffalo has made the finals the past two tournaments, but a third trip is in jeopardy after losing their tournament opener.
The Carolina Hurricanes scored three power-play goals Friday afternoon as they defeated Buffalo 6-1 at Centre Ice Arena.
Buffalo was able to generate a lot of chances and outshot the Hurricanes 35-20, but they couldn’t get the puck past goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
“I’ve played against Ned a few times. He’s a great goaltender but we can’t put it all on him either,” Brendan Lemieux said. “I think there were some mistakes on our end and we just have to bury our chances. We had too many to only put up one goal tonight so we’ve got to dial it in a little. But yeah, he was pretty good tonight.”
The Hurricanes ended up going 3-for-5 on the power play. Phil DiGuseppe scored twice (once on the power play) and Alex Aleardi was credited with a goal and two assists. Brock McGinn, Victor Rask and Brent Pedersen also tallied.
Buffalo went down early, surrendering the first goal of the game 3:19 in while killing off a penalty.
“We knew they were going to be good on the power play,” coach Chadd Cassidy said. “I thought a lot of it was over-skating pucks and just not [focusing on] details away from the pucks.”
Buffalo battled back with a goal from Vaclav Karabacek with 7:16 remaining in the opening period before Carolina regained the lead with 2:28 to play in the first.
The Hurricanes added another pair of goals in the second period and two more in the third to close out the game. Buffalo started to press more in the Carolina zone late in the game and that led to some prime chances the Hurricanes were able to capitalize on.
“Maybe we had to take some risks there, but not too many. They used their chances pretty well every time,” defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said.
The line combination of Karabacek, Lemieux and center Eric Cornel
corroborated to make Buffalo’s only goal happen. From the left wing corner, Lemieux threw a pass cross-ice to Cornel who made a no-look backhand into the middle where Karabacek was able to put it past Nedeljkovic.
“Eric found me. He has good eyes,” Karabacek said. “I thought he would shoot, but he found me and I was surprised. It was a very good pass from him.”
For Cornel, he anticipated Karabacek being in the right place at the right time.
“I sort of had a feeling he was going to be there,” Cornel said. “So I got it and made the quick pass. I was lucky enough to get it to work out.”
With only one practice together under their belts, the instant chemistry for the line came as a welcome surprise.
“I got hit and then I just saw the tail end of him spinning. It was a great play,” Lemieux said. “I definitely didn’t come into this game thinking we were going to pull off something like that.”
All three members of that line were second-round picks by the Sabres in this year’s draft.
Before the game, Ristolainen was named captain of the team for the tournament. Jake McCabe and Joel Armia will serve as alternates.
“He’s been through a lot. He’s been a really successful player at a lot of different levels and he’s also a guy who’s also very vocal and will tell guys what he thinks,” Cassidy said. “I think that’s a big part of leadership no matter what age you are.”
While Ristolainen isn’t going to adjust his style, now that he has a letter on his chest, he said he’s going to try to step up even more on the ice – especially with Buffalo needing wins in order to place well in the tournament.
“I’m not going to change everything. I’m just going to do my job and lead more on the ice,” he said.
Lemieux on moving on from the loss:
As a group, I think we have a lot to look forward to. We’ve got a group of top-notch guys that are playing well. We just need to put it together. I think the score really didn’t represent how good we were tonight.
We definitely played a lot better than the score was, but that’s the thing with hockey. Sometimes you’ve got to give that extra inch.
I’ve definitely been through my fair share of playing well and not producing or even as a group, losing 2-1, losing 6-1 and playing well. We’d rather lose well than squeak out wins when we don’t deserve them because at the end of the day it’s about improving. Especially at a tournament like this, we all want to improve and show our stuff.
Lineup changes usually depend on the health and availability of certain players. Cassidy mentioned after the game that a few players are a little dinged up and they’ll wait for further evaluation before shaking up the roster.
He also said they’ll make a decision later on Friday as to who will start in goal against New York. Andrey Makarov made 14 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres and Rangers are set to face off at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
“Makky didn’t have the kind of game he wanted to have to start out with tonight, but we kind of left him out to dry a few times as well,” Cassidy said.
The game on Saturday can be heard on ESPN 1520 in Buffalo and will be streamed on Sabres.com’s desktop player. Full postgame recaps and analysis will be on Sabres.com as well.