When: 8:00 p.m. eastern (that’s right, NBC is making us wait an hour later...on a Sabres game)
How to Watch: National game on NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Hockey series (oof for them, competitively speaking, but the Buffalo market does really do great in TV ratings, even when the team is down bad)
Opponent Track: Since the Pens last saw Buffalo almost two weeks ago on 3/13 the Sabres have fired their coach and also gone 0-4-0. Buffalo hasn’t won a game since beating New Jersey on February 23rd. Since then it’s been 14 straight losses, either in regulation or shootout/OT. It’s just been a terrible season that already can’t end too soon.
Pens path ahead: More home cookin’ for the Pens, who get the Sabres again tomorrow night. Then the competition level kicks up in a major way as Pittsburgh hosts the Islanders on Saturday and next Monday (3/29). Then next week the Pens hit the road to play Boston next Thursday (4/1) and Saturday (4/3).
Season Series: Pittsburgh is up 2-0 on Sabres, beating them in Buffalo 5-2 on March 11th and then 3-0 on March 13th. This week is Buffalo’s first trip of the season to the ‘Burgh. 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 21 of its last 23 games against Buffalo (18-2-3) dating back to October 5, 2013. During that span, the Penguins have outscored the Sabres by a 86-46 margin.
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Die by the Blade for the latest news to know about the Sabres.
Player Stats at a Glance
—Well, Jeff Skinner scored a goal last game against the Rangers, so that’s some progress at least.
Taylor Hall - Dylan Cozens - Sam Reinhart
Victor Olofsson - Eric Staal - Tage Thompson
Jeff Skinner - Curtis Lazar - Casey Mittlestadt
Rasmus Asplund - Cody Eakin - Riley Sheahan
Jacob Bryson / Rasmus Ristolainen
Rasmus Dahlin / Colin Miller
Henri Jokiharju / Brandon Montour
Announced starting goalie: Dustin Tokarski
Scratches: Tobias Rieder (injured), Carter Hutton, Kyle Okposo (injured), Matt Irwin
IR: Jack Eichel, Linus Ullmark, Zemgus Girgensons, Jake McCabe, William Borgn
—Just when it couldn’t get worse for Buffalo, last week they traded goalie Jonas Johansson for a sixth round pick and then goalie Carter Hutton got hurt. Linus Ullmark practiced yesterday but won’t play so the net tonight belongs to...Dustin Tokarski. If the name sounds vaguely familiar, he was a goalie with the AHL Wilkes-Barre Pens in 2019-20 season. Tokarski has not started an NHL regular season game since 2016, but he did get 56 minutes last game to re-acclimate to the NHL game after Hutton’s injury.
—28 year old goalie Michael Houser, who has more ECHL than AHL appearances and no NHL games will serve as the backup tonight. It’s just a dire situation right now, seemingly everywhere you look in Buffalo.
—Ullmark may be able to play on Thursday night for Buffalo against the Pens, which would be a huge return. He’s been out since February 25th. The Sabres haven’t won a game since.
—After absorbing a big hit from Zach Aston-Reese on March 11th, Cozens was just able to return last game against the Rangers. It will be interesting to see if any Sabres teammates attempt to remind ZAR about this and entice him for physicality since they did not like the hit (for good reason, btw) and it wasn’t even two weeks ago.
—Colin Miller is also day-to-day, but indications from Buffalo practice yesterday was he was expected to play. The news wasn’t as sunny for Tobias Rieder who is believed to be out tonight.
How bad can it get?
The Sabres haven’t won in a month, but just the law of averages says they have to get a good result at some point, right? They’re professional caliber athletes too! But then looking at the stats and under-lying numbers and, woof, it’s no fluke that Buffalo loses every time out. They’re a bad team that plays poorly and stand out in a major way from their peers as a bad, bad team.
Goals For and Against (5v5) - March 23— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) March 23, 2021
There's a bit of a pile-up at the top so let's focus on the outliers... #LetsGoBuffalo still can't score or make a save, #GoSensGo's finishing is a little better than before, and the #AnytimeAnywhere are just pure chaos. pic.twitter.com/aQ7CKSeFBP
—About the one area the Pens need to avoid is giving up power play chances. Buffalo at 25.0% does have a fairly dangerous group there. At even strength though, they’ve just been getting destroyed. The Pittsburgh PK is a perfect 4/4 vs Buffalo in the first two games of the season, so that has been no real trouble so far. The Sabres only have two goals in the two games against Pittsburgh, they haven’t been much trouble to anyone in a while.
And now for the Pens..
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese- Jared McCann - Kasperi Kapanen
Evan Rodrigues - Mark Jankowski - Sam Lafferty
Colton Sceviour - Frederick Gaudreau - Anthony Angello
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mike Matheson / Cody Ceci
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Possible starting goalie: Tristan Jarry
Scratches: Juuso Riikola, Chad Ruhwedel, Brandon Tanev
IR: Evgeni Malkin, Jason Zucker, Mark Friedman, Teddy Blueger
Taxi Squad: Yannick Weber, Josh Currie, Josh Maniscalco, Maxime Lagace
—Aston-Reese jumped up a line to join the top six, which makes sense. He’s the biggest goal scoring threat perhaps on the lower lines these days and might as well get the most skilled offensive players available.
—Unfortunately after a few days off, Tanev wasn’t able to return to practice to the team and his status for the immediate future doesn’t look great.
Strong on night one of back-to-backs
From the team’s PR:
Today the Penguins begin their fifth set of back-to-back games this season. Pittsburgh is scheduled to have nine sets of back-to-back games in 2020-21. Thus far, the Penguins are 5-2-1 in back-to-backs (4-0-0 the first night; 1-2-1 the second night).
The good news is that today is night one, where the Pens are perfect. Night two have been a lot more of the problems, and this week is at least an opportunity to pad the records there with Buffalo icing a depleted lineup and goaltending situation.