Today’s NHL predictions features a matchup between two past rivals of the 2006 era. The Carolina Hurricanes return home after a Metropolitan Division road swing to take on the Buffalo Sabres. Over that swing the Hurricanes finished 2-1 with a late game winner against the Philadelphia Flyers, a late game loser against the New York Rangers, and a dramatic comeback overtime victory against the New York Islanders. Carolina (7-5-0) has started the season somewhat unexpectedly but seem to be slowly finding their way back to their game. One question now is if Saturday’s comeback victory will be the jump the team needed or more of a blip on the radar. We will see.
Meanwhile, the Sabres come to Raleigh with a record of 6-6. They sit just outside of a current wild card position. Their last matchup was a high-scoring 6-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Former Hurricane Jeff Skinner is tied for the team lead in goals (six) and points (11) for the Sabres. With an overall up-and-down year so far, Buffalo will look to keep momentum from Saturday’s victory.
This will be the first meeting between these teams this season. The biggest news for Carolina is that they will be without the services of starting goaltender Frederik Andersen for the foreseeable future. With Antti Raanta coming off a victory with multiple days to rest, he will likely see the net. Meanwhile, Carolina recalled Pyotr Kochetkov and signed veteran goaltender Jaroslav Halak to a PTO so the goalie situation will be interesting to watch. Here are three keys for Carolina to secure the victory tonight.
NHL Predictions: Buffalo vs. Carolina
Three Keys to Victory for Carolina
Special Teams Executing
The Carolina Hurricanes have been a Jekyll and Hyde the last few years when it comes to special teams. The penalty kill has been top-notch while the power play has been not so top-notch. The beginning of this season saw the Hurricanes sort of flip that script. The power play was a little better while the penalty kill seemed like an automatic goal against.
Overall, the Hurricanes are seventh on the man advantage at 26.7%. Their 76.1% penalty kill has them at 21st in the league. They also are tied for the league lead in shorthanded goals with four. However, over their last five games, they are 4-11 on the power play and 13-14 on the penalty kill, both of which are good enough for second in the league. While they did concede a shorthanded goal against the Islanders, it was also the power play that showed up to give Carolina the equalizer in the third period. Andrei Svechnikov made a nifty pass to Jesperi Kotkaniemi from behind the net and Kotkaniemi was able to roof it in tight past Ilya Sorokin.
This has been one key to Carolina’s power play becoming more effective, getting to the net. The team relies heavily on its defence to generate offence but being able to score in tight compliments that game plan well. It does numerous things including creating traffic for screens, tips and rebounds. It also causes the opposition’s penalty kill to suck in and collapse down low. This gives the points and the top of the circles more room to shoot and make plays. More effective and efficient passing and shooting around the power play mixed with increased movement has been a welcome sight to see as well.
On the other side, the Sabres penalty kill is at 89.1%, good enough for fifth in the league. Their power play, however, is only at 11.4% and has them at the bottom of the pack. For Carolina, breaking Buffalo’s kill and ensuring that their power play doesn’t all of a sudden find fire will be key. You never want to just rely on your special teams, but in a league where teams have to be opportunistic, special teams can be key. And we are seeing this more and more in the early parts of this season.
Don’t Take a Breath
For anyone who has listened to Rod Brind’Amour as coach, they know a few things he always preaches. One of those is that in the NHL you cannot take a breath as that may be the straw that breaks your back. Over the Brind’Amour era, this is largely a practice the team has exhibited. Playing complete sixty-minute games of hard forechecking, constant pressure on the puck, and shots and shots and shots. However, it is in those games where the team struggles to convert that a turnover, a failed clearing attempt or missed coverage leads to a game-losing goal.
This was precisely what happened against the New York Rangers a few days ago. The puck went into the corner with Brady Skjei battling for it against two Rangers. Anthony DeAngelo went to help but ended up covering the same man that Skjei was on. This left Jacob Trouba open as he slid closer to the half wall. As the winger, Seth Jarvis was left to cover both Trouba with the puck and the incoming eventual goal scorer William Cuylle. Due to this hesitation, Cuylle was able to walk down the low slot wide open for a one-timer. And that was the game-winner in the third period.
What a finish from the kid!
— Rangers on MSG (@RangersMSGN) November 3, 2023
Everyone is human and it’s impossible to say there won’t be any mishaps. This is where a reliable goaltender can also pick up the slack. It also is why Brind’Amour preaches taking each moment by moment. The next shift is in fact the next shift. Take care of today and don’t worry about tomorrow. The Sabres are a skilled team with the ability to counter fairly decently. But for Carolina, minimizing brain lapses will be essential for victory.
Keep on “Finn”ishing
While Carolina keeps looking for finishing amongst its team, the Finnish forwards have stepped up in the early season to provide that punch (no pun intended). Sebastian Aho is the franchise piece for this team and his game-winning shot past Sorokin on Saturday was a sight to see. But with two goals and eight assists, Aho is not actually the forward most responsible for the team’s early offensive success.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Teuvo Teravainen, two Finns who had something to prove this season, have been leading the way for Carolina’s offence. Kotkaniemi leads the team in points with 12 while Teravainen leads in goals with eight. Both have been productive at 5v5, on the power play and shorthanded. We took an in-depth look at the two Finnish forwards’ early success in a previous article here.
As far as clutch performances, look no further than the recent games against Philadelphia and the Islanders. In Philly, Teravainen ripped a shot from the slot off of a great pass from Michael Bunting with a little over three minutes left in the game. On Long Island, as mentioned above, it was Kotkaniemi’s power play goal that tied the game late for Carolina. Of course, that led to another Finn winning it in overtime.
While other players have contributed offensively so far, including some great performances by Jarvis, it is the Finns leading the way. Kotkaniemi is getting to the net and showing some skill while Teravainen is utilizing his shot more. Both will need to continue to help Carolina win another at home.
This matchup will be a battle between two teams really trying to find their game this season. Carolina is in a decent position but frankly hasn’t played a complete game yet. Well maybe against the San Jose Sharks but does that count? Buffalo is not down and out but is still trying to make it back to the playoffs with more consistent play. With Andersen dealing with medical issues, Carolina will look to provide an emotional victory for the Danish netminder.
Prediction: Carolina wins 3-2
Main Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports