When: 3:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: NBC
Opponent Track: Buffalo broke their 0-15-3 losing streak on 3/31 against the Flyers. Starting with that game, the Sabres are 5-2-2 in their last nine games, including a 5-2 win over the Capitals on Thursday their last game. The Sabres are suddenly...actually kinda good? Certainly not as hapless as they were in March, that’s for sure.
Pens path ahead: The Pens are in Buffalo for a quick trip for two games today and tomorrow. Next week the boys return back home for a five game home-stand that begins with seeing the Devils three times next Tuesday, Thursday and the next Sunday (4/25) and then continues with the Bruins coming to the ‘Burgh after that.
Season Series: Pittsburgh is up 4-0 on Sabres this season, outscoring Buffalo by a whopping 17-4 combined total so far. The Pens won in Buffalo 5-2 on March 11th and then 3-0 on March 13th, followed by a 5-2 win on 3/24 and a 4-0 win on 3/25. After this weekend there are still two more PIT/BUF games left this season, and they’re also the very last two gams of the regular season for the Pens on May 6+8, in Pittsburgh.
Recent History: The Pens have been good for a while, and the Sabres have not. Their matchups reflect that. Pittsburgh has points in 23 of its last 25 games against Buffalo (20-2-3) dating back to October 5, 2013. During that span, the Penguins have outscored the Sabres by a 95-48 margin.
Hidden Stat: The Penguins are 9-2-1 this season in both ends of in back-to-back situations (6-0-0 the first night; 3-2-1 the second night). Tonight is “night” one of a b-2-b.
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Die by the Blade for the latest news to know about the Sabres.
Player Stats at a Glance
—As is what happens to a last place team that is dead in the water, trade deadline season was brutal for Buffalo in the short term scope of losing talent to help them get to the finish line this spring. They lost four of their top 13 scorers to trades (Taylor Hall, Brandon Montour, Eric Staal and Curtis Lazar), getting back only Anders Bjork for this year to go along with a host of future draft picks.
—Then again, Bjork has one goal in just two games with Buffalo so far, which means he’s only one goal behind what Taylor Hall put in the net for the Sabres in 37 games. So maybe it’s not all that bad in terms of what they “lost” and what they’ve added in terms of giving young, hungry players bigger roles.
—Speaking of young and hungry, despite losing a lot of established NHL talent, the Sabres have had 5 wins in the last 9 games. Casey Mittlestadt might be finally breaking out (6G+2A in those last nine games). Tage Thompson (4G+1A) deserves some praise too. Reinhart, Dahlin and Okposo all have six points in this stretch as other hot players during this upswing for Buffalo.
Jeff Skinner - Sam Reinhart - Victor Olofsson
Rasmus Asplund - Casey Mittlestadt - Tage Thompson
Anders Bjork - Dylan Cozens - Arttu Ruotsalainen
Tobias Rieder - Cody Eakin - Kyle Okposo
Jacob Bryson / Rasmus Ristolainen
Rasmus Dahlin / Henri Jokiharju
Matt Irwin / Colin Miller
Possible starting goalie: Dustin Tokarski
Scratches: Riley Sheahan, Linus Ullmark (injured), Carter Hutton (injured)
IR: Jack Eichel, Zemgus Girgensons, Jake McCabe, William Borgen
—The (s)hits keep coming in net. The Sabres season really hit the skids earlier when Ullmark got hurt, he came back late in March and went 4-2-1 with a .915 save%. That sounds modest enough, but for this team is really incredible. Welp, he’s hurt again and possibly out for the season. Backup Carter Hutton remains injured as well, and while he’s back on the ice, he won’t be playing this weekend
—But, in help has arrived in the unexpected form of Dustin Tokarski. Tokarski, the former WBS farmhand, who hadn’t played in the NHL since 2016-17 until the Sabres injury opportunities gave him a shot now. Aside from his record, a .908 save% will give them a chance as nearly league average. Tokarski notched 27 saves on 29 shots against the Caps for a win on Tuesday. But, this is also the goalie who started twice against the Pens in March and went 0-2-0 with a .889 save% and 4.05 GAA, so we’ll see how that goes for this matchup. The Pens lit him up the last time around.
—The other healthy goalie on the roster is Michael Houser, who has spent all his time in the ECHL since 2016-17, aside from 2 AHL games, with 0 NHL experience. Ouch. This Tokarski/Houser tandem is what Buffalo had last month against the Pens in another b-2-b situation and they played Tokarski both games. It didn’t go well for them. They haven’t played Houser at all, so it seems like they have no choice but to ride Tokarski again this weekend for a b-2-b. Give ‘em a salute, because this is probably not going to work out for them, but what other choice do they have?
—Apparently that choice may be top goalie prospect in 22 year old Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (who has 0 career NHL games). And Luukonen is currently injured as well and unknown if he can play by tomorrow. So...we’ll see!
—Also it was announced recently that Jack Eichel won’t play again this season due to injury. Yoi, to quote Myron Cope! Thinking ahead: will Eichel ever play a game in a Buffalo jersey again? Seems worth asking at this point. Double yoi!
—As mentioned above in the stats section, watch that second line this weekend. Mittlestadt, 22, has been pretty much a non-factor for much of his NHL career despite being drafted 7th overall in 2017, but he’s been playing great. Is he upping his game for the long haul? Thompson has been impressive too, and Asplund (3G+2A in the last nine games) has stepped up to make the most of his new opportunity.
—Congrats to undrafted 23 year old Arttu Ruotsalainen for having the toughest name for me to spell in the NHL. Possibly ever! Arttu Ruotsalainen (can you tell I’m copy/pasting this?) has now four games in the NHL. Will he stick and make Arttu Ruotsalainen a household name?
—Full disclosure, what’s the worst name as a blogger that I’ve literally had trouble writing about over the years? Easy answer for me: Valtteri Filppula. Solid player, I just can never, ever get either his first or last name correct. Always take a google spell check to make sure, including just now. Must be a Finnish thing! (No disrespect to the great nation of Finland, I swear),
And now for the Pens..
Yesterday’s practice lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jared McCann - Jeff Carter - Jason Zucker
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Evan Rodrigues
Radim Zohorna - Mark Jankowski - Colton Sceviour
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mike Matheson / Cody Ceci
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Possible starting goalie: Tristan Jarry
Scratches: Sam Lafferty, Chad Ruhwedel, Frederick Gaudreau (injured)
IR: Evgeni Malkin, Mark Friedman, Kasperi Kapanen, Brandon Tanev
Taxi Squad: Juuso Riikola, Yannick Weber, Emil Larmi, Anthony Angello, Maxime Lagace
—The lines from yesterday indicated Lafferty would be out and Zohorna would be in. I don’t see why they wouldn’t do this, Lafferty has had a second pretty “meh” season in a row. Zohorna has only played a handful of NHL games, but he’s provided a lot more production and suggested a lot more than Lafferty has. Might as well see a bigger sample of Zohorna now before (hopefully) some wingers get healthy.
Sid looking to pass Mario in 20 goal season mark
Any time Sidney Crosby can overtake Mario Lemieux in any sort of franchise record it’s always fun look at. Even if it’s a somewhat silly category like “who has the most 20 goal seasons in franchise history?” Crosby could pass Lemieux in this obscure category with three more goals this season, a nice little trivia bit to stump your friends with. From Pens PR:
On Thursday night against Philadelphia, Sidney Crosby poked home his 17th goal of the season, bringing him within three goals of his 13th 20-goal season. In reaching 20 goals, Crosby would surpass Evgeni Malkin and Mario Lemieux for the most 20-plus goal seasons in franchise history:
Player 20+ Goal Seasons with PIT
Sidney Crosby 12
Mario Lemieux 12
Evgeni Malkin 12
Jaromir Jagr 11
Rick Kehoe 9
Jean Pronovost 9
Among NHL ranks, Crosby would become the 36th player to have 13 or more 20-plus goal seasons in league history. Gordie Howe leads the way with 22 seasons of 20-plus goals.
With only eight goals this year and being expected out injured for a few more weeks, Malkin won’t be able to pass Lemieux this year for most 20 goal seasons in franchise history. I’m sure he’ll be unable to sleep for days knowing this.