Sabres at Hurricanes
The Buffalo Sabres have jumped out to an all-important fast start in the abbreviated NHL season, winning their first two games in impressive fashion. The Sabres have a strong chance to keep the momentum going Thursday, when they visit the stumbling Carolina Hurricanes in the opener of a home-and-home series. Buffalo has been sparked by the top line of Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson, not to mention goaltender Ryan Miller, who registered 34 saves in Monday's 2-1 win over Toronto.
Conversely, the Hurricanes are off to a miserable start, getting slapped around by Southeast Division rivals Florida and Tampa Bay by a combined 9-2 score. Carolina had heightened expectations following the offseason acquisitions of forwards Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin, but they have collected only one assist apiece and the Hurricanes have fallen behind quickly in both games. The teams have split the last 10 meetings, with Buffalo going 3-1-1 in its past five at Carolina.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, MSG (Buffalo), SportSouth (Carolina)
ABOUT THE SABRES (2-0-0): Vanek and Pominville each had five points in four games against the Hurricanes last season. They are off to white-hot starts, with Vanek registering six points and Pominville five while Hodgson has scored a pair of goals. Ville Leino sat out the first two games with a leg injury and also missed Wednesday's practice. Nathan Gerbe, who has been recovering from offseason back surgery, could return as early as Thursday. Jhonas Enroth is expected to start in goal against Carolina.
ABOUT THE HURRICANES (0-2-0): Offensive shortcomings aside, the bigger issue during Carolina's ragged start has been in net. Cam Ward has put the Hurricanes in an early hole in both games, giving up a pair of goals on only five shots in Tuesday's 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay. Ward was blitzed for four goals on only 12 shots in the season opener before being yanked in favor of backup Dan Ellis. Ward also surrendered eight goals in his first two games last season before recording three straight wins.
1. The Sabres have not won their first three games since 2008-09, while Carolina has not failed to earn a point in its first three since 1997-98.
2. Carolina has converted only 1 of 11 chances with the man advantage.
3. Vanek has 11 goals and 15 assists in 26 career games against the Hurricanes.