RALEIGH, N.C. – It's Jeff Skinner Homecoming Night at PNC Arena, also known as the Buffalo Sabres meeting the Carolina Hurricanes for the first time this season.
Most eyes, of course, will be on the return of Skinner to the place where he spent his first eight NHL seasons. The reaction is expected to be strong in his favor as Skinner was one of the Hurricanes' most popular players until his stunning trade to Buffalo on Aug. 2. And Skinner learned a few hours before faceoff that he will be joining Jack Eichel at the All-Star Game in San Jose.
But while Skinner may be the top story to Carolina fans, of bigger importance to the Sabres is the return of Jack Eichel after missing three games with an upper body injury. Eichel will be centering Skinner and Tage Thompson in the 7:30 p.m. game, which can be seen on MSG and heard on WGR Radio.
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1. The lineup: With Eichel back in the lineup, the Sabres will have to make a roster move to get him off injured reserve. C.J. Smith, who scored his first NHL goal Tuesday in New Jersey, is a healthy scratch tonight and could be headed back to Rochester.
Sabres this AM:
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) January 11, 2019
2. In the net: The Sabres are going with Carter Hutton (14-12-3, 2.57/.918) while the Hurricanes are expected to use backup Curtis McElhinney (10-5-1, 2.25/.922) after starter Petr Mrazek played Thursday in Tampa Bay. Hutton is 3-1 vs. Carolina in his career with a 2.06 GAA and .927 save percentage. Meanwhile, McElhinney has struggled against Buffalo while with six previous NHL teams (2-3, 2.98/.911).
3. No. 1 vs. No. 2: This will be the first meeting of the first two picks in last June's draft. Top choice Rasmus Dahlin of the Sabres is tied for third in rookie scoring and leads all first-year defensemen with 21 points. Dahlin's 17 assists are three behind rookie leader Elias Pettersson of Vancouver. Carolina winger Andrei Svechnikov, who went second in the draft, is tied for second among rookies with 11 goals and is seventh in points with 19.
4. Hurricanes blowing strong: Carolina had a five-game winning streak snapped Thursday night at Tampa Bay, suffering a 3-1 loss as the Lightning struck for all of their goals in the final 12 minutes of regulation. The streak, which featured 21 goals in the five victories, came on the heels of a 4-9-2 slide that dropped the Canes from playoff contention. Carolina starts the night seven points behind Buffalo, which holds the East's final wild-card slot. Center Sebastian Aho leads the Hurricanes with 16 goals and 45 points.
5. Around the boards: The Sabres are 0-4-2 in their last six games against Carolina, with the last victory a 3-2 win at PNC Arena on March 22, 2016. The six-game run is the longest current one for the Canes against any opponent ... The Sabres host Tampa Bay Saturday night in KeyBank Center. Buffalo is 4-3-1 in the first game of back-to-back sets and 5-1-2 in the second game. The Sabres have swept three of their previous eight back-to-backs. ... The Buffalo penalty killers are up to fourth in the NHL at 84.1 percent. Carolina's power play is just 22nd at 16.9 percent. ... Carolina captain Justin Williams, a Stanley Cup winner here in 2006 who scored the empty-net goal to clinch Game 7 of the East final against the Sabres, tallied his 300th career goal Thursday night. ... Carolina is wearing its new black alternate jerseys tonight and owns a 5-0-2 record in them this season.