Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (33-22-8; 74 points, 4th place in Metropolitan division) @ Buffalo Sabres (29-26-8; 66 points, 5th place in Atlantic Division
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, MSG-B, Sportsnet
Opponent Track: Buffalo is just 1-5-1 in the last two weeks of play. They’ve lost their lost two games, and by a combined score of 10-5 at that. However that one win was last weekend at Washington, so they did have a little pop left to down a good team. That said, they’ve given up 4+ goals in five of the seven games and are floundering.
Pens Refresh: Won a very important game on the road in Columbus to stabilize their playoff chances for the moment. Are prepping for this game and then a quick trip up to Montreal for what should be an intense Hockey Night in Canada game.
Season Series: The Sabres took the first meeting in OT on Nov 19 by a 5-4 score. After tonight the three game season series concludes in Buffalo in a game on March 14th in a couple of weeks.
SBN Team Counterpart: Die by the Blade
Tale of the tape
—Considering Buffalo has been so bad (going on eight straight years of not making the playoffs, only 62 points last year in the standings) these numbers have slowly been going in the right direction. Not that there was much other way for them to go.
—But the key word above is “slowly”. They’re still a team that still doesn’t score a lot of goals and gives up a lot of goals. Thus, it doesn’t take a wizard to see they still lose more than they win.
—Two Buffalo strong points though should cause, if not worry than certainly some intrigue. They are able shoot the puck a lot (just don’t have a lot of skill in the lineup) and they have played very well on the PK. “Styles make fights” as the boxing saying goes, and Pens fans know this matches up well against a Pittsburgh team that gives up a TON of shots and often has momentum squandering turns on the power play.
Player stats at a glance
—Skinner’s having a great season in Buffalo, he’s one off his single-season career high of 37 goals, and figures to probably break his single-season point high (63) as well. But will he use that production to leverage his free agent position on the open market? Or would he be interested in returning next year? It’s a very pressing matter for the Sabres, as losing Skinner sets them back an awful lot for next year.
—Eichel is a tremendous player, and he’s already in year one of his second contract (with a relatively reasonable $10.0 million cap hit). But if Skinner leaves town this summer, then what? His team is basically back to square one with no real impact NHL players around him. While much is made of the bad contracts and cosmic blunders Edmonton has made around Connor McDavid, the #2 pick in the draft is no closer to being on a perennial contender now going into season #5 next year.
—Conor Sheary needs either 13 goals or 14 points in the last 19 games of the season to trigger the condition that kicks the trade return to Pittsburgh up from a 4th to 3rd rounder. So, as it’s been looking all season long, expect a 4th rounder. Guessing the Sabres were probably expecting and hoping for more than a 9 goal in 59 game output from Sheary.
Possible Lines (from Monday practice)
Jeff Skinner - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart
Conor Sheary - Evan Rodrigues - Kyle Okposo
Scott Wilson - Casey Mittelstadt - Tage Thompson
Zemgus Girgensons - Johan Larsson - Jason Pominville
Jake McCabe / Rasmus Ristolainen
Rasmus Dahlin / Zach Bogosian
Marco Scandella / Brandon Montour
Injured Reserve: none
—Certainly these days they’re featuring a strong, loaded up top line, but after that...Not too much offensive threats at all in the lineup. The defense is starting to get some headway with the emergence of Dahlin (37 points as a 18-year old defensemen rookie is super impressive) and the trade acquisition of Montour, but otherwise this lineup past the Eichel line is very bland and unimpressive.
—Okposo has recently returned from a concussion scare. For a player that’s accumulated a lot of head trauma it’s always nervy to see him go through something like that. Hopefully he is well and will be able to stay that way. But on the ice his play and results have naturally dropped off.
—Welcome back to the National, Scott Wilson! Wilson has only 3 NHL games under his belt this season, played 17 in AHL Rochester for the Sabres’ affiliate there. Somehow he’s signed for next year too.
And now for the Pens
Check the game notes, eh bud?
Infographic courtesy of the Penguins:
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese-Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Jared McCann- Nick Bjugstad -Dominik Simon
Teddy Blueger- Matt Cullen- Garrett Wilson
Jack Johnson / Justin Schultz
Marcus Pettersson / Erik Gudbranson
Juuso Riikola / Zach Trotman
Expected scratches: Brian Dumoulin (concussion), Kris Letang (upper body), Chad Ruhwedel (upper), Bryan Rust (lower)
Injured Reserve: Olli Maatta (upper body)
—We’ll see if there’s any surprises after an off day on Thursday, but as of now it looks like another bare bones defense.
Eye on the standings
Last night saw the Islanders crush Toronto 6-1 in an emotional return game for John Tavares. What will NYI have in the tank emotionally with a quick turnaround to a game tonight against a rested Washington team?
The other games to watch tonight is a red hot St. Louis team (8-1-1 in last 10) playing @ Carolina and Montreal hits the road to play a NYR team that battled valiantly last night ina 4-3 OT loss to mighty Tampa.
Columbus broke their winning streak by beating Philly - which went to OT. Always a bad result for Pittsburgh any time two divisional foes go to OT, though the Flyers are still well in the rearview mirror six points and an extra game played is a lot this time of year.
Key to the game
Wear them down.
In first periods this year, Buffalo has done well, scoring 54 goals and allowing just 49. But the latter part of games are absolute killers for them: in the second periods they have 59 GF to an astounding 71 GA. In the third they’re just as bad, 58 GA to 71 GA.
(The Pens for the record are fast starters with 71 GF vs 57 GA in the first periods of games this season... 82 GF to 72 GA in the second and an even 60 GF to 60 GA in the third).
So for this game, the Pens love to score second period goals, and the Sabres tend to fall away as the games go on this season. It’ll take hard work to continue that trend but that’s one they should look to capitalize on.