RALEIGH, N.C.—It’s extremely rare for an NHL team to enter the third game of a season bearing a strong sense of urgency; and, in most scenarios, such a mindset would be unnecessary. But for the Carolina Hurricanes, who began this condensed 48-game schedule with two losses, an added jolt of intensity was much-needed heading into their matchup against Buffalo.
And man, did it pay off.
The Canes (1-2) earned their first win of 2013 on Thursday, beating the Sabres (2-1) at PNC Arena, 6-3. Eric Staal had a hat trick, Jeff Skinner tallied two goals, Justin Faulk got on the board and Cam Ward stopped 30 of 33 shots en route to a victory.
“The game was a quick pace, way quicker than the first two games,” Coach Kirk Muller said. “But we capitalized at the right times.
“The guys stayed to the program, which we were preaching tonight.”
Following Tuesday’s loss, Skinner told me in the locker room that “a little desperation” was need heading Thursday. The effort wasn’t where it needed to be, he said, and that had to change to avoid a 0-3 start.
“We were a little bit more desperate around their net, that made a big difference,” the 2010 Calder Trophy winner said. “We stuck with it and I think we did a good job playing a full, hard-working 60.”
Carolina skated strong out of the gate against Buffalo after several poor first periods against Florida and Tampa Bay. While the Canes failed to light the lamp in the opening frame, the intensity they displayed carried over to the second when they racked up four goals.
The latter two, which came courtesy of Eric Staal and Skinner, were scored just nine seconds apart.
“It was a big goal by Staal to keep the momentum for us,” Skinner added.
Skinner’s opening goal was akin to the one he scored just two days ago—each being a backhander from the right side of the crease. The 20-year-old says that his stick has a smaller curve than most forwards, which allows him to elevate such shots.
“I guess I should keep shooting like that if it goes in,” he joked. “Maybe I’ll try to get one on the forehand soon.”
Ward Starting to Play Better
After not playing abroad during the recent lockout, Cam Ward entered 2013 looking far from mid-season form. Having allowed eight goals in four periods of play against the Panthers and Lightning, the former Conn Smythe winner knew he needed to quickly shake the rust to give the Canes their first win of the year.
He looked better—albeit not quite like himself—versus Buffalo. If he continues to improve at the rate he is, however, it’s only a matter of time before he returns to the stalwart, reliable netminder fans are used to seeing.
“It’s tough for goalies starting off the season,” Muller said. “All the onus goes on them a lot of times. But he had a great game tonight. The guys played really hard in front of him.”
Penalty Kill Looking Better; Power-Play Still Struggling
After surrendering goals on each of their first three penalty kills of the year, the Canes have really buckled down on the PK—and Thursday was no exception. Carolina stymied all eight of Buffalo’s power-plays, and even earned a short-handed goal to boot.
Jordan Staal was particularly exceptional on the PK that led to the first goal of the game.
“On Faulker’s goal, I was fortunate enough to get a good stick in the lane and create a bounce to get us going the other way,” Staal said. “Faulker did a good job finishing the rest.
“It’s nice when we can roll all those guys (on the penalty-kill) and stay fresh.”
On the other hand, the Canes continue to struggle converting on their power-play opportunities, and are now 1-15 on the man-advantage this season.
“(The power-play) was alright,” Jordan Staal said. “We just got to keep working at it to get more shots; just keep crashing to get those dirty goals.”
The Hurricanes return to action on Friday when they play the second of a home-and-home set against Buffalo at HSBC Arena.