When: 7:00 p.m. ET
How to Watch: On TV locally in Pittsburgh (AT&T Sportsnet), Buffalo (MSG-B). And it looks like Sportsnet of some sort in Canada
Opponent Track: The Sabres are one of the league’s most improved teams so far this season and currently riding a five game winning streak. That sounds really impressive, but is a bit of smoke and mirrors since two of the games were shootouts and all five have been one goal games. Still, you’d kill for Pittsburgh to be on such a streak. Buffalo played last on Saturday night, defeating the Minnesota Wild 3-2 on the road. Tonight is the final game of a three game road trip for them.
Pens Refresh: Everything is awful
SBN Team Counterpart: Die by the Blade
Tale of the Tape
On paper, it would be tough to determine which one of these teams is in last place. The Pens are good at scoring goals, bad at stopping them. The Sabres don’t stand out in goals for, against, their shots are perfectly equal, the PK is good (but it’s tight in a group that Pittsburgh is in as well), their power play isn’t special.
But then there’s the 5v5 save percentage. Carter Hutton has never had a starter’s workload before, and while that doesn’t always work out (see Darling, Scott), Buffalo has done well so far with Hutton in the net with a .928 save % in 15 games. Surprisingly enough, backup Linus Ullmark has been equally as steady with a .929 save% in 6 games to start the season.
Matt Murray can probably be jealous of the low-events Hutton has seen though; Murray has faced 80 5v5 high danger shots against in 456 minutes. Hutton has only dealt with 83 high danger chances in 669 minutes, which really goes to demonstrate that the Buffalo defense has been playing well to limit chances against, and the Pittsburgh team defense has been an affront to our eyeballs.
Cautious Optimism in Buffalo
Our SBN Sabres blog sounds a bit conflicted in how much to buy into believing if this early season start is real or not. As mentioned above, this winning streak has been aided by a couple of shootouts and facing backup goalies a bit, but it is a five game winning streak nonetheless.
Recently, in a matchup against the East-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, the Sabres proved they could start a game with a lead and finish strong. It was still difficult to buy in; Buffalo faced a below-average backup in Louis Domingue. It was an ugly win in which the Sabres generated only 19 shots on goal. Tampa Bay controlled play for much of the game. Buffalo won, regardless.
This win was followed up by two more - each time, the stakes grew. After beating the Winnipeg Jets in a shootout (against the team’s backup) Minnesota got serious and gave Buffalo their starter. Devan Dubnyk has spent the last few seasons redefining the importance of goaltending to a middle-of-the-pack team. Buffalo won, regardless.
I also said the team would finish four games above .500 - 86 points. I hesitate to budge on this because every Buffalo bone in my body is waiting for the other shoe to drop. But I also have to confess that I’d be very, very happy to be wrong.
In the end, the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres have appeared to relish the opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong. If it means our beloved team cracks the top eight and races into the playoffs, I’ll wear that hat proudly as I cheer them on from the barstool of my pub of choice.
@Wow, having fun as a hockey fan these days, what’s that like?@
Player stats at a glance
—Remember that per the terms of the June trade, Pittsburgh gets a 4th round pick in 2019 from Buffalo, unless Conor Sheary scores 20 goals OR 40 points. In which case Pittsburgh gets Buffalo’s 3rd round pick. So far, almost a quarter of the way into the season Sheary is on pace for 24 goals and 41 points. Injuries (and slumps from being a bit banged up) have been an issue before, so don’t consider this one an automatic with still 60 games to go, but it’s certainly looking good for Sheary so far in Buffalo.
—Ironically, the piece the Pens were so desperate to clear (veteran defenseman Matt Hunwick and his $2.25 million salary) has been on injured reserve and hasn’t played a game all season.
—Other than that though, the Sabres in general have had some good luck with health so far. 13 of their 18 regular skaters have played in 18 out of 20 (or more) of the games so far. Ten players (who are probably the most important/best ten players on the team) have played all 20 games to date.
—Jeff Skinner has been a revelation and big part of the turnaround, his 14 goals rank tied for 2nd right now in the entire NHL. We were big proponents on using the newly found cap space on Skinner, who was well known to be on the trade block from Carolina this summer, but alas the Pens looked in the direction of Jack Johnson. I’m sure that’s going great.
—Jason Pominville is enjoying a nice career renaissance for a guy who turns 36 later this month. Pominville’s 17 points in 20 games is really astounding for an guy who only scored 36, 47 and 34 points in the prior three seasons. Pominville hasn’t been injured much either, but only has been averaging 13 goals a season these last three years, a number (9) that he’s almost already reached. It will be interesting to see if he can keep outracing those numbers.
—2018 #1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin quietly has 10 points in 20 games and has had his minutes ratchet up slowly now to 18:14 per game. That’s really rare air to be in, for modern NHL history the only 18-year old defenseman to play 17+ minutes for 40+ games is Zach Bogosian, Jakob Chychrun and Aaron Ekblad. With 20 more games Dahlin will join that list. It’s almost unheard of for a player so young on defense to jump right into the NHL level, and Dahlin might not have a lot of highlights so far, but his ability to be a good NHL player at such a young age is as impressive as he was advertised to be with his pre-draft hype.
Lines (from their last game on Saturday)
Jeff Skinner- Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart
Conor Sheary - Casey Mittelstadt - Kyle Okposo
Vladimir Sobotka - Patrik Berglund - Jason Pominville
Zemgus Girgensons - Johan Larsson - Tage Thompson
Jake McCabe / Rasmus Ristolainen
Rasmus Dahlin / Zach Bogosian
Marco Scandella / Casey Nelson
And now for the Pens
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
All eyes on still on Sid
The status of Sidney Crosby is up in the air after being on the comeback path from a upper body injury. Obviously if he can go or not will be a big factor in the game.
Crosby skated before the morning skate, as he has been doing recently, but was also able to stay on with the team for the first time. He surely must be getting close and is now 6 days out from an injury that coach Mike Sullivan said would be about around a week.
Crosby has returned to the ice with the rest of the team. -DP pic.twitter.com/TOAE1MqLcR— AT&T SportsNet™ PIT (@ATTSportsNetPIT) November 19, 2018
Riley Sheahan was a healthy scratch last game. If Crosby does return, do they look to get Sheahan back in there as well?
Morning line rushes suggest no Crosby tonight, but that remains to be seen. Wouldn’t be unheard of to switch things up if #87 is good to go, but given a long skate this morning, perhaps today is a ramp up day for next game on Wednesday.
Tanner Pearson - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Jake Guentzel - Derick Brassard - Patric Hornqvist
Dominik Simon - Derek Grant - Daniel Sprong
Zach Aston-Reese - Riley Sheahan - Bryan Rust
Jack Johnson / Kris Letang
Brian Dumouln / Chad Ruhwedel
Olli Maatta / Jamie Oleksiak
—Holy cow, could it be a healthy scratch on tap for Matt Cullen? Times must be getting desperate.