Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (4-4-2, 10 points, 7th place Metropolitan Division) @ Buffalo Sabres (6-3-0, 12 points, 2nd place Atlantic Division)
When: 7:30 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, TNT, Sling TV
Opponent Track: The Sabres are flying high. They won against the Blackhawks on Saturday, when Tage Thompson scored twice in the third period to send the game to an overtime which the Sabres ended in just 36 seconds. Then they defeated the Red Wings on Monday, when the team racked up eight goals, including a Tage Thompson hat trick. (Is five goals in two games good? Asking for a friend.)
Pens Path Ahead: The pace of the Penguins’ schedule continues to fluctuate. Their contest against the Kraken at home on Saturday will be their only game in six days— then they play three road contests (in Washington, Toronto and Montreal) in a span of four days next week.
Season Series: The Penguins will meet the Sabres again during an away-and-home back-to-back set starting December 9.
Getting to know the Sabres
SB Nation counterpart: Die by the Blade
Jeff Skinner - Tage Thompson - Kyle Okposo
Jack Quinn - Casey Mittelstadt - Victor Olofsson
John-Jason Peterka - Dylan Cozens - Alex Tuch
Zemgus Girgensons - Peyton Krebs - Rasmus Asplund
Jacob Bryson / Rasmus Dahlin
Kale Clague / Owen Power
Lawrence Pilot / Casey Fitzgerald
Goalies: Eric Comrie (Craig Anderson)
Scratches: Vinnie Hinostroza, Jeremy Davies, Ilya Lyubushkin
IR: Mattias Samuelsson, Henri Jokiharju, Ben Bishop (unofficially retired)
Tage Thompson, the $50 million man
Tage Thompson earned a seven-year, $50-million contract extension when, after years of sub-10 goal seasons, he racked up 38 goals in 78 games for the Sabres last season.
Now, he has five goals in the Sabres’ past two contests.
“I think hockey’s so weird,” Thompson told Jourdan LaBarber at Sabres.com after racking up six points, including a hat trick, during the Sabres’ 8-3 rout of the Red Wings on Monday. “You can have a game just like that and none of them will go in for you. I mean, last few games I think we’ve been getting a lot of chances. Tonight was just one of those nights when everything seemed to be going in for us.”
If you’re searching for Thompson during Wednesday’s game, look for the 6-foot-6 fellow wearing No. 72 and— probably— shooting the puck. He has racked up a ridiculous 25 shots during the Sabres’ last three contests.
A one-two defensive punch
The Sabres have been getting plenty of offensive production from their forwards. Alongside Thompson, Alex Tuch and Victor Olofsson are humming along at six goals apiece.
They’re not the only ones— defenseman Rasmus Dahlin has six tallies as well. The Sabres have dominated possession with Dahlin on the ice so far this season, and he’s not the only exciting young blueliner on the team.
From Deadspin’s Sam Fels, in “The Buffalo Sabres are... fun? Is that what this says here? That can’t be right”:
The real root of the Sabres excitement though is on the blue line, with Dahlin and Owen Power. Dahlin is playing at a Norris Trophy level so far this season, with 12 points. But his metrics are off the charts, with 54+ percent marks in Corsi and xG percentage while starting only 40 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone.
Power anchors the second pairing, and he’s also a monster at 6-foot-6 but skates like a ballet dancer. The points haven’t quite come yet, but they will given his aggressiveness and his vision. He’s just 19 and only 17 games removed from playing at the University of Michigan. He has all the runway left.
Both allow the Sabres to play up the ice, not afraid to stop opposing rushes at the red line, confident in their recovery speed, or to keep plays alive at the offensive blue line while being skilled enough to carry the puck out of their zone or laser a breakout pass that starts an odd-man rush.
Eric Comrie rises to the challenge
After five seasons as a fringe NHL player, Comrie made 16 starts with the Jets last year. His .920 save percentage and 2.58 goals-against average made him one of the most successful backups in the league— and earned him a starter role in Buffalo.
Comrie shone early this season during 40-save wins against the formidable Oilers and Flames, then allowed five goals on 24 shots as the defense in front of him buckled before the Kraken.
With such a limited sample size (Wednesday’s start would mark the 31st of his NHL career) the Sabres are still waiting to see exactly what they have in Comrie. Right now, hopes are high.
With 41-year-old Craig Anderson as backup, Comrie will shoulder most of Buffalo’s workload this season. Mike Bales, Penguins goaltender coach from 2013-2017 and current Sabres goalie coach, thinks Comrie is ready for the challenge. Bales, as per Matthew Fairburn at The Athletic:
“He’s probably the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. He’s non-stop. They could probably use him in the energizer bunny commercials. He has a real high capacity for work. The league is full of genetic freaks and that’s the one advantage he has on a lot of guys is his ability to work at such a high load.
Head to head
The Penguins win out on most 5v5 possession stats, but their penalty kill— which has now allowed goals in eight of ten games— presents a major disparity once again.
The most surprising part of this head-to-head matchup might be that the Penguins lose out in goaltending on paper to a duo comprised of the oldest NHL player and a first-time starter. It’s a testament to how solid Anderson and Comrie have been for the Sabres.
And now for the Pens...
Potential Game Lines
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Bryan Rust
Jason Zucker - Evgeni Malkin - Rickard Rakell
Danton Heinen - Drew O’Connor - Kasperi Kapanen
Brock McGinn - Ryan Poehling - Josh Archibald
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Marcus Pettersson / Jeff Petry
P.O. Joseph / Jan Rutta
Goalies: Casey DeSmith (Tristan Jarry started last night)
Scratches: Jeff Carter (injury), Chad Ruhwedel, Sam Poulin
IR: Teddy Blueger (LTIR)
- Kris Letang sat out Tuesday’s game with an illness. If he is still sick today, the defensive pairs would likely shift back to Dumoulin / Petry, Pettersson / Rutta and Joseph / Ruhwedel.
- For the third time this season, Casey DeSmith will fight for his first win of the season in the second half of a back-to-back set. There’s only so much a backup goaltender can do when his team can’t score a second goal, and the Penguins were held to just one during DeSmith’s starts in Calgary and Seattle.
- In Carter’s absence, Drew O’Connor tied for the team lead with six hits in his season debut, but his third line struggled to generate offense last night. We’ll see if the Penguins decide to run the same third line tonight.
- In case of any potential goaltender interference tonight, Penguins fans can rest easy:
After that successful second-period challenge, Pens have now won 15 consecutive challenges in the regular season.— Bob Grove (@bobgrove91) November 2, 2022
- This is the first time since February 2020 (when they dropped six in a row) that the Penguins have recorded five straight losses. They will hope to avoid tying that streak tonight.