More like, a preview to the preview I suppose. Normally I'd say the NHL schedule is a travesty, but I think having a game where these two faceoff only days before the outdoor Winter Classic was a semi-decent move on their part. I feel it gives both teams a chance to treat the Ice Bowl more like a playoff series than just another game.
With that in mind, let's take a look at what the Pens have in store.
Although there's been no official word on it yet, I wouldn't be surprised to see Thibault get the nod on either of the games. Having spent a few years with the Pens up until the 2007 trade to Buffalo, Thibault probably has a good mental book written on all of the Pens. He's 2-2 on the season, which is no surprise when sitting back-up to Ryan Miller. Yet it's likely to see T-Bo in net before the year is over.
In their last game against the Senators, the Sabres lost for only the first time in seven games. In case you needed help with the math, that's a six-game win streak. Their offense can put up numbers, and their defense can just as well keep them out. With the Pens' Mark Eaton being out for an indefinite period of time with a torn ACL, Pitt is going to lack a bit in the shot block category. Either someone is going to have to really step it up (IE Scuderi/Sydor) or the Pens' best bet is to play tight on the man.
For both sides of the puck, not taking penalties is going to be crucial to winning this game. The Sabres pack a punch with the man advantage, ranked 7th in the league on the power play. The Pens aren't far off in the 11th seed with nearly a .5 differential in percentage between the two.
Back in September I never thought I'd be saying this, but hell I'll say it anyways. Ty Conklin is 3-0 as a starter. Not bad for a 31-year old guy who's been a back and forth player between the minors and Daddy clubs. Since 2005 Conklin has been in four different team sweaters (Edmonton, Columbus, Buffalo and Pitt) but may have found a solid home in Pitt. Considering the temporary duties, I think it's safe to say he's doing a stand up job.
Offensively the Pens have been holding their own. The comeback from behind win last night against the Caps can be seen two ways. One way is to beat them senseless for their mistakes (particularly Gonch). The other, and possibly more proactive way is to pat them on the back for making up for their mistakes and finishing the game off with a win (particularly Gonch). I'll choose the latter.
Pens vs Sabres tomorrow night at home in Pitt. Disk drops at 7:38 p.m.