RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes lost 4-3 in an eight-round shootout to the Buffalo Sabres at PNC Arena on Tuesday.
The Hurricanes farm system showed its maturity as Riley Nash, Chris Terry and Zach Boychuk all posted a goal and an assist apiece, and eventually forced the game into overtime and a shootout before Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons ended it, beating goaltender Cam Ward who finished with 23 saves in the losing effort.
“You need those guys to contribute,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said of the former Charlotte Checkers regulars.
“Secondary scoring, maybe it’s primary scoring with the lineup that we have right now. They were good. I didn’t play them as much as I probably should have early. Then when we got down – they’re offensive guys (and with) their track record at the American League level – we played ‘em more and they sent a pretty strong statement to the coach that they want some more ice time.”
Facing the Sabres without captain Eric Staal and Pat Dwyer, who sat out the game with recent injuries, Boychuk was recalled from Charlotte to fill a roster spot after forward Jeff Skinner joined Jordan Staal on injured reserve retroactive to Oct. 5.
With another chance with the big club, the Hurricanes’ top pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft focused on getting into the play early and often.
“I think as the game went on I felt better and better,” Boychuk said.
“I definitely wanted to make an impact. I wanted to make sure that I focused on gettin’ some hits and gettin’ some shots. I was able to get a couple right away. A good chance there when Murph passed to me on the 3-on-2. I wasn’t able to score but kept pushin’, and Bill had the confidence in me to put me out in the third period and moved me up a line and me and Terry went to work.”
Coming into the game, Carolina held a 6-1-1 record in the two teams’ last eight meetings, but it was the Sabres who claimed the full two points and their first win in Raleigh since Nov. 18, 2011.
Before the opening faceoff, both teams were winless on the young NHL season and getting ahead early was a priority.
The Sabres managed to do that first, leading 1-0 after the first period.
Buffalo’s early gain resulted in more personnel loss for Carolina.
Just as Marcus Foligno scored the first of two goals on the night, Carolina defenseman Andrej Sekera crashed heavily into the boards behind the net after tripping over Ward’s pad in trying to get back to defend on the play.
Slow to get up, Sekera eventually skated off the ice, visibly shaken up, bent over and favoring his right shoulder and neck area.
As a result, he didn’t return for the rest of the game.
Coming out after the intermission trailing by one, Nash was on top of Buffalo netminder Jhonas Enroth’s crease when defenseman Jay Harrison put the puck on net from the side boards to set up the Hurricanes’ first goal of the game.
Enroth made the pad save on the shot, one of a total 22 stops on the night, but he left a big rebound that Nash quickly tucked away to tie it 1-1 just 30 seconds into the second period.
According to Harrison, who played in his 300th game with Carolina, being part of a more active defensive corps that jumps into the play is what the team has been working on.
“In terms of adding a fourth guy to the rush, I think it adds another element to the offense, another layer that pushes teams back,” Harrison said.
“Even if it doesn’t get back to that second wave of offense, it can generate space and zone time. We have some great skaters in the back end who can go. It does take a little bit to get used to, but once those become automatic, those decisions to read the rush and join the play, we do a lot of it in practice to get the repetition to our muscle memory to get going, I think it’s gonna’ be a huge part of our offense.”
Peters encouraged the added effort of the defense to lengthen its playing distance and to keep developing itself to become an active component of the team’s offense.
“It was good,” Peters said.
“We had a couple of clean entries on a 4-on-2 there. We had Sems on the back end early in the game – that probably would have been in the second period. We had another one when the D were up on the rush, and we encourage that. We wanna’ make plays and we wanna’ hold onto the puck when we have it and we wanna’ execute. That won’t change from now to the end.”
While the defense jumped into the play often during the game, the adjustment to doing it more that it has in the past, still created situations in which the rearguards were out of position.
For the most part they recovered successfully, but on the few occasions it worked against them, they paid a price for it, particularly on the play that Sekera got injured on.
When asked about the Slovakian defenseman’s status following the game, Peters stated,” the X-rays were negative. Hopefully we catch a break there. I think we’re due one in the health department, so we’ll see.”
As excited as the raucous crowd of 14,930 in attendance was to celebrate Nash’s equalizer, Buffalo quickly retook the lead, 2-1, just over a minute later following a turnover at the Carolina blue line by Brian Gionta.
Gionta found Torey Mitchell open and he ripped a low shot from the opposite boards that beat Ward on his glove-hand side as he slid across his crease to attempt to make the save.
Trailing by a goal again, the Hurricanes had two power play opportunities in the second that came up scoreless.
Coming into the game, Carolina had scored four power-play goals in its first two games, and was ranked tied for third in the NHL, but Enroth and the Buffalo penalty kill successfully held its ground on all three sequences it faced.
Carolina got its first power play after Buffalo’s Drew Stafford took exception with Harrison riding out Tyler Ennis on a check on the side boards in the Carolina zone at the midpoint of the second period.
Nothing came of the scuffle other than Harrison enduring Stafford’s facewash while both clutched each other.
Working the man-advantage effectively with possession in the Sabres’ zone, the play then was reset at the other end of the rink after the puck was touched by a Carolina stick in mid-air.
The ensuing faceoff ended up in the Hurricanes’ zone and the Buffalo penalty kill held of any further Carolina attack.
With 4:04 left in the period, Carolina got its second power play as Andre Benoit hooked Elias Lindholm while he circled the back of the Sabres net.
The second man-advantage didn’t reap any reward for Carolina, and they still trailed 2-1 heading into the third period.
Peters continued to make adjustments to his lines, putting together combinations that he might not have made if the team was not in its current injury situation.
“No, you know what?” Peters said with a chuckle and smile.
“We’ve got a lot of different depth charts drawn up, and played with line combinations, but there’s some new ones now that we’re seein’ with the injuries that we have and also the emergence of some of these players.”
Regardless of who was out on the ice, the message was clear to every player on the Hurricanes bench.
“He was basically yellin’ throughout the game – ‘when you hear your name called, you go out there’,” Boychuk said.
“There’s not too much said. You gotta’ get the job done.”
That’s exactly what Boychuk, Nash and Terry did after the Hurricanes fell behind 3-1 following Foligno’s second goal of the game at 2:54 into the period.
Following a win off the faceoff by Nash in the Sabres zone to the left of Enroth, Boychuk dug the puck out of the corner and circled back to the hash mark along the boards and found Terry streaking to the net in the slot.
Terry made no mistake on the feed and redirected the puck over the Buffalo keeper and gave Carolina new life, trailing by one goal with 7:49 to play.
With under two minutes to play, Terry returned the favor and found Boychuk open in the slot and slid the puck to him to the satisfaction of the crowd on hand.
The redirected shot tucked under the top of the net and dropped out quickly, causing the referee to washout the goal and allow play to continue.
Once the play ended, the attempt on goal was reviewed and Boychuk’s shot was indeed a good goal.
Both teams were tied 3-3, and the additional five-minute overtime period at 4-on-4 couldn’t determine the winner.
Though Terry and Boychuk would have loved the chance to contribute further during the extra period, they didn’t see the ice during that time.
“Nope – gotta earn that trust,” Peters said.
“Never had ‘em in OT, so I’m not gonna’ use ‘em in OT here. I don’t know if they’ve even practiced 4-on-4 other than in training camp, so I’ll touch on that as a group. Should probably do that tomorrow and see if they can help in that area also.”
As many waited to exit the building following the shootout, their patience was tested more than usual as it took eight shooters a side to end it.
As each team scored a goal apiece, one from Matt Moulson and one from Terry, and with Enroth and Ward making numerous saves, Girgensons’ deke and shot over Ward’s glove hand finally ended what turned out to be an entertaining game.
“It was good,” Peters said.
“Down two (goals) with under 10 (minutes) to go, so you’re not gonna’ get many points in this league down two at 10 to go. I liked the effort. I like the fact that we stayed with it. I liked our third period. We could have been a little bit better obviously in certain areas. Good on faceoffs and penalty kill went clean – 2-for-2 – so that’s positive.”
Though sprinkling some sugar on the finish to salvage a point, Peters’ comments were supportive, but his tone and body language indicated that he and the team have much work to do.
Currently sitting winless (0-2-1) after three games, it is only the second time since the team relocated in 1997 that Carolina has started the season in that position, starting 0-3-0 in 1997-98.