The Buffalo Sabres are a division leader, and it's not because they keep the red lights on (just 149 goals). Quite the opposite, they have thrived with good defense and great goaltending, their 129 goals allowed is the 2nd best mark in the NHL, behind only New Jersey. Ryan Miller, a Vezina front-runner, posted a record of 8-3-2 in the month on January with a stingy 1.98 GAA and a very solid 0.938 save percentage. Just as the Penguins are built around Crosby/Malkin/Staal, the Sabres are built to be solid from the net out.
Tim Connolly's quietly putting together a solid season. The oft-injured forward was snubbed from Team USA, but since that announcement was made Connolly has 20 points (4 goals, 16 assists) in just 14 games. He's been red hot and dishing the puck very well. Who's scoring the goals? Austrian sniper Thomas Vanek has four goals in his last seven games and "Strokin" Jochen Hecht had 6 goals in January (though none in the last five games).
At just 19 years old, the massive Tyler Myers is the presumptive Calder winner to this point of the season. Myers plays excellent positional defense, uses his 6'7 220 pound frame well and skates better than players half a foot smaller than him. Myers chews up a lot of minutes, plays in all situations and is figuring out the NHL games. He tallied 10 points in January (4g, 6a) his best month of his young NHL career for goals, points, PP goals and points and shots on goals. He's budding into a contributor at every aspect of the game, which is a scary thought.
It's unknown if the Pens will turn to Marc-Andre Fleury for the second time in two days, but after today's game the Pens don't have a game for four games. So don't be shocked to see Pittsburgh's starting goalie out there. Also Max Talbot's status remains unknown, but given that Pittsburgh hasn't sent down a minor leagues callup (Mark Letestu and Nick Johnson) it looks like Talbot will miss another game.
For the Pens to win:
- Play a game like yesterday. Detroit and Buffalo play similar in terms of having a focus on playing defense, and countering mistakes their opposition makes. Jordan Staal called yesterday's game a "chess match" and from all indications we could be in store for another one tonight.
- PP production. This will be tough, as the Sabres currently boast the #2 penalty kill in the NHL. Pittsburgh's struggles on the power play have been well documented, but in what figures to be a tight, low-scoring game, scoring a man advantage goal could tip the scales.
Sabres' keys to the game:
- Test them early. The Pens have had a lot of favorable matchups were they play a team on the second game of back-to-backs, but in this game it'll be Buffalo that's well rested. Pittsburgh just played an emotional day game against their SCF rivals, if Buffalo gets on the scoreboard early, they could cruise to a win with their style of play.
- Clear the traffic. When Ryan Miller has seen pucks this year, he's pretty much stopped them all. The Pens might use guys like Staal, Bill Guerin and Matt Cooke on the PP to get traffic in Miller's field of vision. Buffalo is going to need to keep that clear.