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Game 26 Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Buffalo Sabres 3/11/2021: lines, how to watch

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It’s the first Buffalo/Pittsburgh game of the season!

Pittsburgh Penguins v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (15-9-1, 31 points, 3rd place in the Eastern Division) @ Buffalo Sabres (6-14-4, 16 points, 8th place Eastern Division)

When: 7:00 p.m. eastern

How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, MSG-B in New York

Opponent Track: It hasn’t been pretty. Buffalo’s winless in their last eight games (0-6-2), being outscored 32-15 in that stretch. The Sabres were off the first two weeks of February dealing with COVID issues, and since their return on Feb. 15, they’re just 2-10-2.

Pens path ahead: After these two games in Buffalo, the Pens go back home for a back-to-back next Monday and Tuesday against the Boston Bruins.

Season Series: It’s game 26 for the Pens, but the first time they’ll see Buffalo all year. The Pens stick around to play again @BUF on Saturday. The Sabres head to Pittsburgh in a few weeks for back-to-back games on March 24+25. The Pens return to Buffalo on April 17+18 in another b-2-b set. Then, to cap it off, the final two games of the season on May 6+8 will be in Pittsburgh — in what very well could be two games the Pens need to win in order to get into the playoffs.

Recent History: The Pens have been good for a while, and the Sabres have not. Their matchups reflect that. Pittsburgh has points in 19 of its last 21 games against Buffalo (16-2-3) dating back to October 5, 2013. During that span, the Penguins have outscored the Sabres by a 78-42 margin. Overall the Pens are 10-0-2 in the last 12 games they’ve played in Buffalo.

SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Die by the Blade for the latest news to know about the Sabres.

Player Stats at a Glance

via hockeydb:

—If we’re in “let’s say some nice things about Buffalo mode”:

  • Linus Ullmark has been giving them a fighting shot. But, unfortunately he’s only about two weeks into what was described as a month long lower body injury.
  • Victor Olofsson is a very fun offensive player to watch! Sam Reinhart has been having individually a pretty good season as well.
  • The Sabres will be wearing their reverse retro jerseys and right now have some of the sharpest sweaters in the league. They haven’t figured it out on the ice, but they do look good out there at least!

—In less good points:

  • Jeff Skinner hasn’t had any puck luck at all and has been a healthy scratch at times. One goal and one assist in 21 games is almost comically bad to the point of being unfair. To make matters worse, he’s only in year two of an eight year contract that will pay him a cap hit of $9.0 million.

Possible Lines

FORWARDS

Taylor Hall - Dylan Cozens - Sam Reinhart

Victor Olofsson -Eric Staal - Riley Sheahan

Jeff Skinner - Curtis Lazar - Casey Mittelstadt

Tobias Rieder -Cody Eakin - Kyle Okposo

DEFENSEMEN

Matt Irwin / Rasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus Dahlin / Henri Jokiharju

Jacob Bryson / Brandon Montour

Possible starting goalie: ?

Scratches: Colin Miller, Jack Eichel (injured), Tage Thompson

IR: Jake McCabe, Linus Ullmark, William Borgen, Zemgus Girgensons

—Riley Sheahan is playing on the top six. Of an NHL team. In the year 2021. If you just gave that one piece of information to someone blindly a few months ago, they probably wouldn’t need to know anything else to determine this is a team in absolute shambles and in deep, deep trouble. And, indeed, this Sabres team is.

Sabres looking to “play free”

Buffalo went up 3-1 early on Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Yet, they let it slip into a 4-3 third period lead and the Flyers eventually tied the game, before taking it to a shootout and winning it. It was another disappointing result from a team trying to put it together. From sabres.com:

In Eichel’s absence, Dylan Cozens moved to center and pivoted a line featuring Reinhart and Taylor Hall.

“I think he looked like a natural fit there, obviously playing there the majority of his life,” Reinhart said. “Really liked his game tonight just like most nights out of him.”

Hall picked up assists on both of Reinhart’s goals. However, the bigger picture was on his mind during his postgame interview. Buffalo (6-14-4) is currently last in the NHL with 16 points in 24 games (.333 points percentage).

“If you let them have the puck all night, it’s not advantageous to you,” Hall said. “So, we have to learn how to play with a lead and just go play. I mean, let’s be serious, we’re a lot of points out of the playoffs, we should just be playing loose and just going and playing free.”

To touch on what Hall said at the end — the Sabres could be a tougher opponent than it might appear if they do “play free”. A lot of their struggles seem to be trying to play tight games or play perfect, then they fall behind and lose confidence. If they just play with nothing to lose, they might just be a looser team that gains confidence.

That said, they’re still a mess and not there yet, being as they literally just lost a game they should have won.

..But still, they are an NHL team, are they really going to lose every game they play? It’s a fascinating situation. At some point, like they almost did against Philly, you would think Buffalo gets a win or two against a good team. Then again, they did not win that game. And they lost three games 5-2, 5-2, 5-2 to the Islanders over a four day stretch last week. That came WITH Jack Eichel’s services available, which won’t be happening in the next two games.

And now for the Pens..

Lines

Forwards

Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust

Evan Rodrigues - Evgeni Malkin - Kasperi Kapanen

Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev

Colton Sceviour - Mark Jankowski - Anthony Angello

Defense

Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang

Marcus Pettersson / John Marino?

Mike Matheson / Cody Ceci

Possible starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

Scratches: Chad Ruhwedel, Sam Lafferty, Juuso Riikola

IR: Jason Zucker, Mark Friedman, Jared McCann

Taxi Squad: Yannick Weber, Josh Currie, Maxime Lagace

—Marino missed practice yesterday, but it was only a maintenance day, usually a code for he should be expected to not miss game time. If he can’t play, though, Ruhwedel will get back in the lineup for his first game since February 14th. Seems odd that it’s already almost been a month since Ruhwedel has played.

Sullivan gunning for 300

Coach Mike Sullivan is approaching a career milestone. From Pens PR:

Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan is currently sitting on 299 career wins as a head coach and is looking to become the 50th head coach in NHL history, and 14th active, to reach the 300-win mark. Sullivan would become the 12th coach in NHL history to have 300 wins and at least two Stanley Cup championships to his name, and is also looking to join John Tortorella, Peter Laviolette and Dan Bylsma as the only American-born head coaches to win 300 games.

If the Penguins were to win tomorrow in Sullivan’s 559th game coached, he would match Emile Francis (559) as the 13th-fastest head coach in NHL history to reach the 300-win milestone.

Coach Games Coached

Bruce Boudreau 496
Jon Cooper 500
Todd McLellan 515
Dan Bylsma 517
Toe Blake 525
Mike Babcock 526
Glen Sather 528
Fred Shero 539
Dave Tippett 543
Ken Hitchcock 545
Mike Keenan 550
Scotty Bowman 552
Mike Sullivan* 559 (299 career wins entering his 559th game today)
Emile Francis 559
Joel Quenneville 568

Below are Sullivan’s wins broken down between Boston and Pittsburgh:

Team Games Wins

PIT (2015-Pres.) 394 229
BOS (2003-2006) 164 70

Since Sullivan was hired on December 12, 2015, the Penguins have been near the top in many categories among NHL teams including wins (229 - 3rd) and goals for (1,293 – 2nd).