Raleigh, N.C. (WGR 550) – The Buffalo Sabres got off to a nice start in Carolina on Friday, but after taking a 2-1 lead, they seemed to lose some focus against the Hurricanes.
Just 28 seconds into the game, Dylan Cozens and his line mates - Alex Tuch and JJ Peterka - got in on a heavy forecheck. Cozens got the puck back to Jacob Bryson, and with all three forwards headed to the net, Bryson’s shot went in off of Andrei Svechnikov’s pants and past Antti Raanta.
As the period went on, the Hurricanes seemed to settle down and get their focus. After that, Don Granato’s crew had no answers for Sebastian Aho, Martin Necas and Svechnikov.
Carolina’s top-three scorers combined for four goals and five assists for nine points on the night.
Aho started his hat-trick to tie the game at 1-1 on a slick passing play that gave him a wide-open one-timer.
Buffalo recovered from that goal less than two minutes later when Jack Quinn found Victor Olofsson. He let go of a rocket that actually had to squeeze through Raanta, and Buffalo had its lead back.
Aho tied it again at 2-2 on the power play, and that’s when the Sabres started losing focus and mistakes were being made.
Rasmus Dahlin started a fracas by shooting the puck at Raanta after the whistle that ended in him taking a pretty hard punch to the face from Jesperi Kotkaniemi. To Dahlin’s credit, he knew he would have to answer for it, and he didn’t back down an inch. However, Kotkaniemi also got away with doing that to the Sabres All-Star defensemen and nobody wiped that grin off his face for the rest of the night.
It was a really tough night for Sabres defensemen Lawrence Pilut and Casey Fitzgerald. It seemed like they were having trouble with the speed of the Hurricanes. Fitzgerald was on the ice for four of Carolina’s goals, while Pilut was on for three.
Their ice-time had to be significantly reduced, as Fitzgerald only played 9:52 and Pilut played 11:01.
That put more stress on Dahlin, who, despite sitting for six minutes in penalties, played 26:58. Owen Power put in 24:43 of work, with Bryson going 23:23.
The game was Craig Anderson’s first loss in four starts this season. Yes, he let in four goals, but he made other key saves on Aho and Necas, as their nights could’ve been even better.
The Hurricanes are just too good of a team to get behind to. The Sabres had the lead midway through the first period, but they gave up four goals in a row, and there’s just no way you’re coming back against that team.
Dahlin did keep the Sabres' power play streak alive, scoring with the extra man at 19:59 of the third period. Peterka and Jack Quinn were both on that power play and got the assists. That goal means Dahlin has points in 10 of the Sabres' 11 games this season.
Buffalo has power play goals in five-straight games, and in eight of their last nine. Even after being on that streak, the Sabres are only 12th in the NHL at 23.3%.
From a league standpoint, the team’s penalty killing is below average, sitting at 19th at 77.8%. However, their best penalty killer, Mattias Samuelsson, has been out injured, and having Ilya Lyubushkin and Henri Jokiharju out too hasn’t helped either.
Things don’t get any easier on Saturday in Tampa Bay. The Lightning struggled early in the season, winning just one of their first four games. Since then, though, they have just one regulation loss, going 5-1-1. Tampa Bay is 12th in the league in points percentage at .591, while the Sabres dropped to seventh at .636.
Nikita Kucherov is seventh in league scoring with five goals and 11 assists for 16 points. He, like Dahlin, has points in all but one of his team’s games, and he has goals in five-consecutive games.
Steven Stamkos had a red-hot start, scoring seven goals in his first five games. However, he hasn’t scored since, covering six games.
Tampa Bay’s goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has given up three or more goals in each of his last four starts. He hasn’t been impressive, going 4-3-1 with a 2.87 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. He won't play against Buffalo, as Brian Elliott gets the call.
Being a back-to-back for the first time all season for the Sabres, I would expect Eric Comrie in goal. He’s 4-3-0 this season with a 3.29 goals-against average and an .898 save percentage.
Join Brian Koziol and me for pregame coverage on WGR starting at 6 p.m. ET when we’ll be joined by Granato and a few players.