The Pittsburgh Penguins (38-23-9) get a breather from their run of playoff competitors and Stanley Cup contenders when they play the Buffalo Sabres (30-30-9) tonight at the KeyBank Center. Given the Penguins futility against bad teams, that may or may not be a good thing. The Penguins are oozing confidence after winning five of their last seven games including three wins against playoff teams (Columbus, Boston, Washington).
After a hot start this season, Buffalo has faded from the playoff race for the eighth straight season. The last time Buffalo made the playoffs was in 2011 when they lost in the conference quarterfinals to Philadelphia.
The Penguins, however, are close to extending their streak of 12 straight playoff berths and are third in the Metropolitan Division. After a few months of fighting for a spot, the Penguins have built a small four-point cushion in the standings. They only trail first-place Washington by four points.
Despite a rocky first half of the season, a division title is still possible.
After goalie Matt Murray started nine straight games, Casey DeSmith will take the hill for the Penguins. DeSmith is 14-11-5 but has not started since Feb 21. Buffalo will start Carter Hutton.
The Penguins took down another high scoring playoff-bound team in a 5-3 victory against the Washington Capitals, Tuesday. The victory loomed large in the playoff standing as the Penguins used a lethal second period to pull away. Washington jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second period on Jacob Vrana’s (20, 21) second goal of the game and had momentum. The Penguins eventually responded as Jared McCann stole a puck from Evgeni Kuznetsov and flipped a tap-in pass to Jake Guentzel (35). The play changed the dynamic of the game and sparked a three-goal outburst in just 1:48.
Phil Kessel earned the game-winner on a powerplay goal with 8:04 remaining. Evgeni Malkin collected his 1000th career point on Kessel’s goal. Washington threatened late with a John Carlson (11) goal to pull within one, but the Penguins iced the game when Jared McCann (17) added the empty net goal. McCann continues to be an offensive catalyst and is excited to help down the stretch.
Penguins goalie Matt Murray started in net for the Penguins and stopped 38 of 41 shots in the win. Capitals netminder Braden Holtby made 25 saves.
Tuesday, Buffalo could not score on Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop and lost 2-0. Dallas winger Roope Hintz (6,7) score the only goals in the game. Linus Ullmark started for Buffalo and stopped 25 of 27 shots.
Two weeks into his Penguins’ career, Erik Gudbranson is quickly making a positive impression with his new club. He was especially good against Washington on Tuesday night when he led all Pittsburgh skaters with 22:43 minutes played, blocked three shots. Since making his debut with the Pens on March 1, Gudbranson’s plus-5 is tops among team defenders. He has been plus or even in each of the last six games.
Olli Maatta (Upper-Body, IR)
Kris Letang (Upper-Body)
Bryan Rust (Long term, Skating)
Chad Ruhwedel (Long term)
Zach Aston Reese (Long Term)
Jake McCabe (Upper-body)
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||12.5% (12th NHL)||80.0% (9th NHL)|
|New York Islanders||20.0% (8th NHL)||87.5% (4th NHL)|
Expected Penguins Lines
|Jared McCann||Sidney Crosby||Jake Guentzel|
|Bryan Rust||Evgeni Malkin||Phil Kessel|
|Dominik Simon||Nick Bjugstad||Patric Hornqvist|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Matt Cullen||Garrett Wilson|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Jack Johnson||Justin Schultz|
|Marcus Pettersson||Erik Gudbranson|