Maybe we should have sensed that it was going to be a tough night for Buffalo when Carolina's first goal came courtesy of a puck that went off of goalie Carter Hutton hit the top of the net and bounce towards the crease before an attempt at whacking it out of the way backfired. Defenseman Marco Scandella's attempt at redirecting the puck ended up in his own net to put the Hurricane's up 1-0. A total of three Carolina goals were the result of pucks deflecting off of Sabres while Buffalo had one themselves.
However, such is hockey. Carolina played a game deserved of a win but so did Buffalo and in the end, the Sabres losing streak vs. the 'Canes is now at seven games (0-6-1.)
The good news for Buffalo is that Jack Eichel was back in the lineup last night after missing three full games because of an upper-body injury. Although he showed some signs of rust, he wasn't too far removed from the Eichel we've known this season. Another plus was that left wing Jeff Skinner returned to Carolina for his first game in a visitors uniform and scored Buffalo's first goal of the game, which was pretty cool for everyone.
The bad news is that Sabres coach Phil Housley still can't seem to get his line combos straightened out. The second year coach decided to spread the wealth a bit for the Carolina game by moving Tage Thompson up to the top line and moving the team's third leading scorer, Sam Reinhart, to the second line. For as well as Thompson has played lately, especially in Eichel's absence, last night he didn't look very good as he managed only one shot on goal and was a minus-3 in 12:44 of even-strength ice-time. Housley dropped Thompson after Carolina's fourth goal at the 12:27 mark of the second period and the team down by two.
Jason Pominville, who had played extremely well and scored his first goal in 18 games while also ending a 16-game point-drought, moved up briefly to join Eichel and Skinner on the top line before Housley moved Reinhart into that spot. For the third period, with his team down 4-2, Housley put his lines in a blender, sans the Eichel line.
It should be interesting to see what Housley does with his lines tonight as the Sabres take on the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning at KeyBank Center. Buffalo has struggled against the Lightning going 3-6-1 in their last 10 meetings and 3-5-2 in their last 10 at home. Yesterday's loss put Buffalo's hold on the second wild card slot in a little more precarious position and they need to put together a strong, winning effort to turn the ship around. Since their 10-game winning streak in November, the Sabres are only 6-9-4 and have dropped from the top of the league to their present spot.
There was no morning skate today because they're on a back-to-back so there's on inclination as to what we'll see up-front tonight but one might assume that Housley will go to the well again and stick with the Skinnner/Eichel/Reinhart line while letting the chips fall where they may with the rest.
That said, he may have found a pairing in Evan Rodrigues and Johan Larsson. The duo drove their line with Rodrigues possibly having his best game of the season. As for the rest, there's a good possibility that Thompson will join center Casey Mittelstadt on the fourth line and that Vladimir Sobotka might be the vet to help guide them. Kyle Okposo an Conor Sheary will probably be in the top-nine somewhere with Zemgus Girgensons in the bottom six.
Here were the lines to begin the second period:
Here's what they morphed into to start the third period
And here's what they were later in the third
So it begs the question, outside of the top line, whose line is it anyway?