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Game 1 Preview: Buffalo Sabres @ Pittsburgh Penguins 10/3/2019: lines, how to watch

Everything you need to know ahead of opening night hockey in Pittsburgh

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Buffalo Sabres (0-0-0) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (0-0-0)

When: 7:00pm

How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, MSG-B for the visitor’s feed

Opponent Track: It’s a season opener for the Sabres too, who head back to Buffalo after tonight for their next game on Saturday night against New Jersey.

Pens path ahead: Pittsburgh starts the season with a four game home-stand, and relatively speaking for the NHL, it overall probably couldn’t be a less daunting stretch (BUF, CBJ, WIN, ANA). The Pens also open with seven of the first nine at home, getting off to a great start will certainly be expected and necessary.

Season Series: The Pens have seen a lot of Buffalo with two preseason games and going to Western NY for the Prospects Challenge in September, but after tonight it will be quite a while until the two meet up again. The Sabres won’t return to Pittsburgh until all the way on Saturday February 22nd, and then the Pens will make their only trip to Buffalo on March 5th to close out the games between the two.

Recent history: The Pens picked up 4 points vs. the Sabres last season in three games, which sounds good enough. But Pittsburgh only went an odd 1-0-2 against Buffalo last year, dropping two OT/SO games against one of the league’s worst teams. That’s an opportunity to grow this year and try to take more than 4 points from them this time around.

Odd fact: In the five seasons from 2013-14 to 2017-18 the Pens racked up a sensational 14-0-1 record vs the Sabres. Include last season and it’s 15-0-3 in the last six years. The last time Buffalo has defeated the Pens in regulation dates way back to 4/23/2013.

SBN Team Counterpart: Please check in with our friends at Die By the Blade to see from the game from the Buffalo perspective

Tale of the tape

2018-19 Player stats at a glance

via hockey db

Jeff Skinner parlayed a 40 goal season (tied-12th in NHL with our sweet boy Jake) into a max 8 year contract worth $9.0m annually. It’ll be interesting to see how much scoring he is able to bring moving forward.

—Buffalo will be counting on Mittelstadt, now in his third season, to take a big step forward. The former 8th overall pick doesn’t turn 21 years old until November though, so he’s still incredibly young manning a center position.

—It seems like Okposo is always hurt, 78 games for him last year is great to see that his health is holding up recently. But the injuries have taken their toll and the 31-year old is far from the 60+ point player that he once was. His contract at a $6.0m cap hit carries for four more seasons until 2023.

—Dahlin putting up 44 points in the NHL as an 18-year old defenseman last year is super impressive and a sign of bright things to come. The 2018 first overall pick was everything as advertised, playing 21:09 per game, every game, at such a young age. And that should only serve to be the floor as he keeps progressing and gaining age and experience.

Possible Lines (based on Wednesday practice)

Evan Rodrigues - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart

Jeff Skinner - Marcus Johansson - Vladimir Sobotka

Jimmy Vesey - Casey Mittelstadt - Conor Sheary

Zemgus Girgensons - Johan Larsson - Kyle Okposo

Rasmus Dahlin / Colin Miller

Jake McCabe / Rasmus Ristolainen

John Gilmour / Marco Scandella

Expected scratches: Curtis Lazar, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Lawrence Pilut

Injured reserve: Matt Hunwick, Zach Bogosian, Brandon Montour

—An...interesting roster considering late training camp cuts to talented youngsters Victor Olofsson and Henri Jokiharju. Not really sure what is going on there, but it from an outside perspective it seems way better for the Pens to play against Sobotka on the second line rather than Olofsson.

—Only three major changes from last year; free agent addition Johansson joins Buffalo after a great playoff last spring with Boston. Vesey and Miller were added based on a couple of pretty savvy trades to add NHL talent in exchange for future draft picks. But that’s not terribly exciting and will it prove to be enough? Buffalo is still very much a big time work in progress, even after all this time.

Penguin killers

Unsurprisingly since they haven’t won a game in regulation since 2013 against the Pens, Buffalo doesn’t have a lot that’s lit Pittsburgh up over the years. Johansson (5g+11a in 31 career matchups vs PIT) is the biggest scorer, thanks to his long stint in Washington, but that’s not a ton of pain produced.

Skinner (6g+7a in 33 total games) hasn’t really been all that dangerous against the Pens, mostly through his time with Carolina. Young gun Eichel (4g+3a in 10 games) has been pretty good in his career against PIT, especially lately scoring 3 points (2g+1a) in two games against the Pens last year. Reinhart also has seven points (2g+5a) in 12 career for an OK but not tremendous output.

Former Penguin Sheary (2g+2a) in three games last year was probably the one to standout the most, but hopefully his redemption is out of his system now in year two away from Pittsburgh.

Sabres still searching for optimism

Our pals at Die By the Blade have a good preview written up. Simply put, it looks like all signs are pointing to a ninth straight absence from the playoffs are in order after this season plays out.

Perhaps the most significant move of the offseason was the decision to move on from Phil Housley and hiring Ralph Krueger. The 60-year-old coach appeared to be a good mix of a guy with NHL coaching experience and someone that could bring some fresh ideas to the club. Coming from Southampton, the analytics darlings of the Premier League, the Sabres new head coach spoke about using data to make coaching decisions. At the same time, he wouldn’t rely on it too much to hinder the creativity of his players.

We’ll see if we can get an idea of how much the numbers go into some decision making. So far, if the plan is to play Vladimir Sobotka and Kyle Okposo over Evan Rodrigues, it’s not off to a good start.


All in all, while Botterill did some nice things in the summer, he failed to accomplish the most important goal; trim the fat off the roster. His acquisitions were not the types that are going to result in any sort of significant impact in the standings. Especially with all of the negative impact players on the roster still, that will cover up possible improvements.

This is the reason that you see Sean Tierney, Evolving Wild, Micah McCurdy, and Dom Luszczyszyn all project the Sabres to finish between 82 and 87 points this season. Sure that’s an improvement over last season, but in year three under Botterill, they need to be closer to the playoffs. They would be wasting another year of Eichel, Reinhart, and Skinner in their prime. It’ll also cross off another year on Rasmus Dahlin’s entry-level contract on a season that fell well short of the playoffs if those projections hold.

And now for the Pens..

Check the game notes, eh bud?

Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:

Lines (based on Wednesday practice)

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist

Alex Galchenyuk - Evgeni Malkin - Brandon Tanev

Jared McCann - Nick Bjugstad - Dominik Kahun

Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Dominik Simon

Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang

Jack Johnson / Justin Schultz

Marcus Pettersson / Erik Gudbranson

Expected scratches: Chad Ruhwedel (healthy), Juuso Riikola (healthy), John Marino (healthy)

Injured: Bryan Rust (broken hand, LTIR)

—For all the bluster about the Penguins making sweeping changes and seeking improvement after last season, the only differences between the lineup tonight and how the team was for Game 4 vs. NYI last April is:

OUT: Phil Kessel, Matt Cullen, Garrett Wilson, Rust (due to injury)

IN: Galchenyuk, Tanev, Kahun, Blueger (who was a healthy scratch the majority of the playoffs)

Same exact defense and same pairs that got blasted and otherwise the majority of the same forward group is back and a new backup goalie due not-in-small-part to salary cap reasons.

—The Pens’ top power play group though is about in the sweet spot of talent and roles:

This again is basically last season’s power play, with Guentzel subbing in for the departed Kessel.

Key to the game, as told by a quote from The Wire

(The Wire is a great show and my favorite show, so I’m going to see how long into the season I can use a quote that ties to the preview of a game)

“I love the first day, man. Everybody all friendly an’ shit.” — Namond Brice

Opening night in the NHL is like the first day of school. Everyone is happy to be back, happy to get going, there’s that certain extra energy in the air that makes the occasion a bit special prior to the beginning of a long, monotonous grind setting in. Beyond the excitement of newness, there’s a clean slate, and plenty of promise for the future with open possibilities.

For the Pens today, they really should work hard to make it a friendly day — they’re playing at home against a not-so-strong opponent. Doesn’t get much better in the NHL than this. Of course though, in this league any team can win any game on a given night, there’s no easy contests or guarantees. But if the Pens want to open out on the right foot and set the tone — and get any lingering bad tastes out of their mouths from the way 2018-19 ended — this is the perfect opportunity to flex their muscles and do so.