Who: Buffalo Sabres (15-32-7, 37 points, 8th place in the Eastern Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (35-16-3, 73 points, 2nd place in the Eastern Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, MSG-B in New York
Opponent Track: The Sabres are hanging tough, winning both ends of a Monday-Tuesday back-to-back over the Islanders, including a 4-3 shootout on Tuesday. Prior to that they had dropped four straight games. Tonight and Saturday are also the final two games of the Sabres’ season.
Pens path ahead: It’s almost the end of the road with just the home games tonight and Saturday afternoon at 3:00pm.
Season Series: Pittsburgh is up 5-1-0 on Sabres this season. 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, with the Pens taking a 3-2 victory on 4/17 but Buffalo bouncing back the next day on 4/18 with a 4-2 win for their first taste of victory over the Pens this year.
Recent History: The Pens have been good for a while, and the Sabres have not. Their matchups reflect that. Pittsburgh has points in 24 of its last 27 games against Buffalo (21-3-3) dating back to October 5, 2013. Pittsburgh is 13-1-2 against Buffalo in the last 16, with that regulation loss coming in the last meeting.
SBN Team Counterpart: Check out Die by the Blade for the latest news to know about the Sabres.
Player Stats at a Glance
Anders Bjork - Sam Reinhart - Victor Olofsson
Rasmus Asplund - Casey Mittlestadt - Tage Thompson
Arttu Ruotsalainen - Riley Sheahan - Dylan Cozens
Jeff Skinner - Cody Eakin - Drake Caggiula
Rasmus Dahlin / Henri Jokiharju
Mattias Samuelsson / Rasmus Ristolainen
Jacob Bryson / Colin Miller
Possible starting goalie: Michael Houser
Scratches: Tobias Rieder, Kyle Okposo, Matt Irwin, Linus Ullmark (injured), Carter Hutton (injured), Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen (injured), William Borgen
IR: Jack Eichel, Zemgus Girgensons, Jake McCabe
—Samuelsson, 21, is the son of former Penguin defenseman Kjell. He was a second round draft pick in 2018 and just made his NHL debut. Nice to see him get an opportunity, he looks like a promising young player.
—This goalie situation is just a complete and total mess. Starter Ullmark has been hurt for a while and just recently the team announced backup Hutton, usual-minor leaguer Tokarski (who has started a handful of recent Pens/Sabres games) and top prospect Luukkonen will be out for the rest of the year. That leaves Michael Houser and Stefanos Lekkas as the two healthy goalies to finish it out. Lekkas, 25, split time between the AHL/ECHL this season and has no NHL experience. Houser didn’t until earlier this week (more below).
—Which means six goalies are technically on the roster right now, with the top four all unavailable, leaving the absolute barest of bare bones situation. This is just an unprecedented way to limp across the finish line. Yet, under Houser, the Sabres are finding a way..
The great Michael Houser story
It’s a shame there is such a gongshow going on with the Capitals and Rangers right now, sucking up all the oxygen and attention of the hockey world. Because one of the best stories in a long while is going on right now in Buffalo with goalie Michael Houser. And he’s from Wexford, playing for the Pittsburgh Hornets at one point. From the Buffalo News:
Houser’s story of perseverance began long before he joined the Sabres organization ahead of the 2018-19 season. He was born with bilateral club feet, a congenital deformity that affects a child’s bones, muscles, tendons and blood vessels. Houser underwent a series of corrective procedures before the age of 2, followed by one more at around 12 years old.
The condition was rarely discussed in the Houser family. His doctor inspired confidence and hope by reminding Houser’s parents that it would have no impact on his quality of life or ability to perform any activity. The diagnosis was rarely discussed by the family, unless a young Michael had questions. It also had no bearing on his ability to perform on the ice, but Michael described his beginnings as a source of motivation.
“It’s kept me going, for sure, it’s made me work I think a little bit harder knowing that I have to keep up, that I’m not as naturally I guess gifted as some others in terms of maybe footwork or height for sure, but it’s definitely made me work harder,” Houser said.
Houser went on to have an outstanding junior career for the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights. He was the rock for a 2011-12 team that reached the Memorial Cup and included multiple future first-round draft picks. He was named the OHL’s Most Outstanding Player and became the first American-born athlete named the Canadian Hockey League’s goalie of the year.
For all Houser accomplished in the top junior league, he was never drafted by an NHL team. Houser bounced around the minors with stops in San Antonio, Ontario, Manchester, Cleveland, Tucson, Fort Wayne, Rochester and Cincinnati. He hasn’t played more than six AHL games in any season since 2014-15.
The whole thing is worth a read, with Houser toiling from 2012-20 mainly in the ECHL, miles away from the glory and game of the NHL. But now he’s here. And he just won his first two NHL games this week, stopping 79/84 shots (.940 save%) that the Islanders pumped on him.
Now Houser returns to Pittsburgh, and deservedly must feel like he’s living out a life-long dream to play in the NHL against his local team after a lifetime of adversity, resilience and hard work. If Hollywood made this movie, you would stop believing it in Act 2. The next few days is probably the story’s peak and it will be fascinating to watch how he writes these chapters.
The NHL’s Masterton trophy usually goes to a star player coming back from an injury or malady of some sort, but in the true meaning of the award it should be an open and shut case for Houser, especially with how he’s performed when finally given the opportunity.
And now for the Pens..
Yesterday’s game lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Kasperi Kapanen
Jared McCann - Jeff Carter - Frederick Gaudreau
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Colton Sceviour
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Mark Friedman / Cody Ceci
Marcus Pettersson / John Marino
Expected starting goalie: Tristan Jarry
Scratches: Radim Zohorna, Chad Ruhwedel, Evan Rodrigues, Mark Jankowski, Sam Lafferty, Casey DeSmith (injured)
IR: Brandon Tanev
Taxi Squad: Juuso Riikola, Yannick Weber, Emil Larmi
Sid gunning to join Mario
Sidney Crosby (60) is four points up on Jake Guentzel (56) and looking to lead Pittsburgh for the season in scoring for an 11th time in his career. That would tie Mario Lemieux for another team record. From Pens PR:
Sidney Crosby was a driving force behind the Penguins 7-3 win on Tuesday night, as he collected his sixth three-point night of the season (2G-1A). His six three-point nights are tied for seventh most in the NHL this season. It also marked his 151st outing with three or more points, and since entering the League in 2005-06, no NHL player has more three-point performances than Crosby (Alex Ovechkin has the second-most at 116).
Crosby has hit the 60-point plateau for the 13th time in his career, and is one of just eight players this season to record 60 or more points. With just two games remaining in the season, Crosby is looking to finish as Pittsburgh’s point leader for the 11th time in his career, which would tie Mario Lemieux for the most times leading the Penguins in points in franchise history:
Mario Lemieux 11
Sidney Crosby 10*
Jaromir Jagr 6
Evgeni Malkin 5
Syl Apps 3
Rick Kehoe 3
*Does not include this season