Who: Buffalo Sabres (10-15-4, 24 points, 6th place Atlantic division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (15-8-5, 35 points, 4th place Metropolitan division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet for the local feed, MSG-B for the away broadcast, ESPN+
Opponent Track: Tough scheduling for Buffalo, who are playing their third game in four days (all on the road) tonight. The Sabres won 4-2 in Winnipeg on Tuesday to break a 0-5-2 streak, and then also won in Minnesota last night, by way of the shootout
Pens path ahead: In the pre-Christmas stretch starting tonight the Pens play every-other-day for four games. All are all against current non-playoff teams with a schedule coming up of @NJD on Sunday, then home for the Devils on Tuesday and then hosting Philadelphia on Thursday before three days off over the holiday weekend.
Season Series: This is game two of three for the Pens and Sabres. Buffalo held on to win the first contest, 2-1 in Pittsburgh when Dustin Tokarski made 45 saves on 46 shots on November 16th and really confounded the Pens. That might have been the low point in Pittsburgh’s season, dropping them to a putrid record of 5-6-4 (they’re 10-2-1 ever since). Tonight is second game. The teams will clash one final time on March 23rd, which will be the Pens’ lone trip to Buffalo this season.
Random fact: The Penguins have allowed the fewest first period goals in the NHL (12) h/t Pens PR.
SBN Team Counterpart: Head over to Die by the Blade where you hopefully won’t die but learn a thing or two about the Sabres just the same.
From hockeydb: (prior to last night’s game)
Ahh, one of my favorite sad occurrences and theories that any team using 4+ goalies in a season are in shambles. Especially only 28 games in, good grief.
—Vinnie Hinostroza has five points (3G+2A) in seven December games despite only averaging under 13 minutes of ice time per game this month. That’s really getting the most of ones minutes there!
—Rasmus Dahlin gets overlooked for his impressive play to even make the NHL (he could be near 300 games before his 22nd birthday next April) and is off to a great season with 17 points in 28 games. Dahlin has 2G+1A in December and is playing almost 25 minutes this month. Only one player (Henri Jokiharju) is averaging 19+, making Dahlin quite the young workhorse.
—Nice to see Kyle Okposo healthy and playing after a rough past few years. He’s also got 4A in the last seven games and was leading the team in points going into last night’s game.
—Jeff Skinner only has 1G+1A in the last seven games. He started off the season looking like a bounce-back candidate with 8G+7A in his first 22 games before this slump.
Thursday Game Lines
Jeff Skinner - Tage Thompson - Victor Olofsson
Brett Murray - Dylan Cozens - Kyle Okposo
Rasmus Asplund - Cody Eakin - Vinnie Hinostroza
Zemgus Girgensons - Mark Jankowski - John Hayden
Rasmus Dahlin / Henri Jokiharju
Jacob Bryson / Colin Miller
Will Butcher / Mark Pysyk
Possible Starting Goalie: Malcolm Subban? (Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen started last night)
Scratches: Anders Bjork (non-COVID related illness), Robert Hagg (month-to-month, lower body injury), Casey Fitzgerald
COVID Protocol: Dustin Tokarski
IR: Johnny Boychuk (IR, unofficially retired), Alex Tuch, Casey Mittelstadt, Craig Anderson, Drake Caggiula
—Oh snap, Mark Jankowski sighting! The former Penguin signed with Buffalo on November 28th after a failed PTO bid in New Jersey earlier this fall and Buffalo had need for a forward, as you can see from their IR list. Jankowski had an assist last night for his first point in three appearances this season with the Sabres.
—Buffalo’s heavy schedule may pay off big time for the Pens. Luukkonen, 22, is probably the most talented goalie in their organization, but he’s also started the last five games. Surely he can’t play three games in four days? The Sabres recently acquired Subban to help provide depth but it hasn’t gone well. Subban has only played one game in Buffalo, on Dec. 4th, giving up six goals in 50 minutes to Carolina and leaving the game with an injury. Overall Subban has just a .898 save% in 83 career NHL games and the 27-year old is on organization four and probably running out of NHL chances.
—Casey Fitzgerald is an option to make his NHL debut. The 2016 Buffalo draft pick was recently recalled with news of the Hagg injury. If Bjork regains health, he could bump Jankowski from the lineup as well (keep the tribute video on standby!)
And now for the Pens..
Thursday Practice Lines
Kasperi Kapanen - Sidney Crosby - Evan Rodrigues
Jason Zucker - Jeff Carter - Danton Heinen
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brock McGinn
Drew O’Connor - Sam Lafferty - Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Mike Matheson / Chad Ruhwedel
Possible Starting Goalie: Tristan Jarry (Casey DeSmith backup)
Scratches: Mark Friedman, Brian Boyle (injured-ish)
IR: Evgeni Malkin (knee), Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel
—Brian Boyle wasn’t on the ice yesterday for practice, putting his availability for tonight into question. You gotta think the old vet will do everything possible to answer the bell and play while he has the opportunity to do so, but if not Lafferty will get off of healthy scratch island to play just his second game since October 29th. (Nov 29th vs CGY being his lone recent appearance).
We’re going streaking!
Don’t drop your clothes and start heading to the quad, but the Pens can establish an NHL season high sixth straight win tonight. Here’s some stats from the team’s PR:
The Penguins 5-2 win against Montreal on Tuesday gave the team their second five-game winning streak of the season. With a win tonight, Pittsburgh could establish a season-long six-game win streak. The Penguins active five-game win streak is tied with the Nashville Predators, Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks for the longest such streak in the NHL.
Below is a look at Pittsburgh’s league ranks since its win streak began (Dec. 4):
Wins (5) T-1st
GF/GM (4.00) T-4th
GA/GM (1.20) 1st
SV% (.959) 1st
PK% (100%) T-1st
FO% (58.5%) 1st
Protecting the crease
Not giving up goals is a novel way to go through a season. The Penguins have done some really great work from the net on out. It’s becoming really impressive just how little they have surrendered as of late. From the Pens’ PR staff:
After Tuesday’s 5-2 win over Montreal, the Penguins have now allowed just six goals against over their last five games. Going back further, Pittsburgh has allowed 20 goals against over a 13-game span. Since that stretch began on Nov. 18, 2021, the Penguins’ 10 wins (10-2-1) tied for first in the NHL, and they’ve allowed a league-low 20 goals against and are giving up an NHL-best 1.54 goals against per game.
Team Goals Against Per Game Since Nov. 18
Team GP GA/GP
Pittsburgh 13 1.54
NY Rangers 13 2.23
Vancouver 13 2.23
Boston 12 2.33
Calgary 12 2.33
Overall, the Penguins are one of the most defensive conscious teams in the league, as their team 2.43 goals-against per-game average is third lowest in the league.
Milestones and streak watches
- The Pens’ PK is up to 32 straight successful penalty kills, which is a franchise-record 14 game streak.
- As mentioned above, Pittsburgh is looking to move their win streak to six.