RALEIGH — It was easy to criticize the Carolina Hurricanes after the first two games of the season, both losses.
The Canes werent scoring goals. They never had a lead. They had too many turnovers, too many defensive breakdowns. Cam Ward was a little too shaky in goal.
But there was little to complain about Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres.
Eric Staal had a hat trick, Jeff Skinner scored twice and Ward was solid enough in net as the Hurricanes won 6-3 at PNC Arena for their first victory of the season. Justin Faulk had a shorthanded goal, the defense was stout, the penalty-killing flawless and the win well-earned against a team that had gotten off to a 2-0 start.
Granted, Ryan Miller was not in goal for the Sabres as coach Lindy Ruff gave backup goalie Jhonas Enroth his first start. But the Canes were flying and could have given Miller or anyone else a test.
Jordan Staal, Zac Dalpe and Joni Pitkanen each had a pair of assists for the Canes, who got goals from Skinner and Eric Staal nine seconds apart in the second period and took a 4-2 lead after a scoreless first period.
We challenged the guys (Wednesday), starting with Cam, Canes coach Kirk Muller said. It was great to see how we responded. Its tough for goalies starting off the season (and) all the onus goes on them, but he had a great game.
The guys played really hard in front of him and our big boys came up with big games.
Eric Staal was without a point after the first two games, losses to the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. He missed on several scoring chances but didnt get overly anxious.
The hat trick, capped by a late empty-netter, was the 13th of the captains career.
We liked some good things we did the first two games, Staal said. Obviously we needed to get more physical in our end and more physical one-on-one with our puck battles. We had a good practice (Wednesday) and the guys were ready to play.
We competed hard on pucks, Wardo made some big saves for us and Skins had some big goals early for us.
Skinner had the only goal in the 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, scoring on a backhander. His first goal Thursday was a near replay, giving the Canes their first lead of the season.
You could just see the tension kind of go away from our guys, Muller said.
Added Eric Staal: It let us play more aggressive, on our toes.
Faulks shorthanded goal, on a bullet of a shot from the right wing, pushed the lead to 2-0. But the Sabres answered with goals from Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville, causing Canes fans in the crowd of 18,081 to grow uneasy.
Then Skinner struck again. Then Eric Staal, nine seconds later.
Skinner was on the ice and furious after Pominvilles goal, a tip of a Christian Ehrhoff shot. On an ensuing shift, he grabbed the puck behind the Buffalo net, wheeled past Hodgson and stuffed it past Enroth for a 3-2 lead.
I was pretty fired up, Skinner said.
Eric Staal won the next faceoff. Streaking into the Buffalo zone, he beat Enroth with a backhand shot to make it 4-2 with 5 minutes, 55 seconds left in the second.
Pominville scored again about six minutes into the third, but Eric Staal soon picked up his second goal. After a Pitkanen takeaway and a well-executed pass, Staal ripped a shot from the right circle to make it 5-3.
Huge goal, Skinner said. It kept the momentum for us and (Ward) had some huge stops.
Ward gave up eight goals on 38 shots in the first two games. But he had 30 saves against the Sabres, including a key stop on a Hodgson shot just after Pominvilles second goal.
The two teams go at it again Friday in Buffalo to complete the home-and-home set. Miller will be back in net for the Sabres.
And Ward? Muller smiled when asked about his starter but didnt commit.
We pushed the pace tonight, Muller said. Buffalos a good team and has played well. Weve got a group that has taken a couple of games to get our legs and play the style that we want. We have to be a 60-minute team.
This night, for 60 minutes, the Canes were a good team.