The Pittsburgh Penguins have surged to a 15-9-1 record and third place in the East Division without the benefit of cupcakes on their schedule. Now, the Penguins hope to maintain their play despite an opponent seemingly in a death spiral. The Penguins are in Buffalo for two gams and their turn at four points against the Sabres (6-14-4).
Buffalo’s captain and best player, Jack Eichel, is out for the two-game series with an upper-body injury.
It’s been a brutal year for Buffalo, which has just two wins against the top five East Division teams. Buffalo is 1-3-1 against both the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.
The Penguins have won four of five and 10 of their last 14 games. The team is rolling, and the condensed schedule could keep coal in the oven.
“If you ask any player, they’d rather play than practice, that’s for sure,” Kris Letang said. “So I think every guy is pretty happy about playing that many games.”
The Penguins also don’t have time to relax and think too long about how bad Buffalo has been.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan affirmed No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry will hold the pipes for the Penguins. Jarry has improved to 10-7-1 with a 3.05 GAA, and .900 save percentage. Jarry made 14 saves in the third period on Tuesday night to preserve the Penguins 4-2 win.
Jonas Johansson was the first goalie off the ice at the Buffalo Sabres morning skate. Johanson was the Sabres’ third goalie at the start of the season. He is 0-3-1 with an .890 save percentage.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines & Special Teams
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Jason Zucker||Evgeni Malkin||Rickard Rakell|
|Danton Heinen||Ryan Poehling||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Brock McGinn||Sam Poulin||Drew O'Connor|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Marcus Pettersson||Jeff Petry|
|P.O Joseph||Jan Rutta|
|Anders Bjork||Sam Reinhart||Victor Olafsson|
|Rasmus Asplund||Casey Mittelstadt||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|
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||24.1% (7-29, 11th)||72% (7-25, 28th)|
|Vancouver Canucks||22.2% (6-27, 17th)||60% (10-25, 32nd)|
What to Watch
Poor Dylan Cozens. Without Jack Eichel, the 2019 Buffalo first-round pick (7th overall) will see many Sidney Crosby in the two-game series. Cozens is a speedy, talented player, but he has 19 games of NHL experience.
The Penguins are playing with confidence and speed, but they have been taking too many penalties. The one area in which Buffalo has excelled is on special teams. See above. The Buffalo power play is fifth in the NHL.
Buffalo is also above average on the PK.
However, the matchups for three of four lines heavily skew to the Penguins. Buffalo center Eric Staal is in the midst of a brutal season. He has just five points, though he traditionally ups his game for the Penguins. Former Penguins fourth-line center and castoff Riley Sheahan is now the second line RW.
The Penguins must maintain their focus and intensity to put the Sabres away before they exhale. The Penguins’ playoff position in the East is tenuous, and they cannot afford to waste points against the Sabres.
Look for the Penguins breakouts and the speed they generate as a sign if they have “it” or not.
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
*Buffalo was 2-1-0 in each of the last two seasons against the Penguins.
*The last five meetings between the Sabres and Penguins have been won by the team who scored first.
*Taylor Hall has recorded 23 points (9+14) in 18 career meetings with Pittsburgh, including four multi-point games.
*Eric Staal has 55 points (23+32) in 57 career contests against the Penguins
*The Penguins have points in 19 of its last 21 games against Buffalo (16-2-3) since October 5, 2013.
*The Penguins have an active 12-game point streak versus the Sabres in Buffalo (10-0-2).
*Evgeni Malkin has a five-game scoring streak (2g, 5a).
*Mike Sullivan has 299 career wins and could become the 50th head coach in NHL history and 14th active coach with 300.
*Per Elias, The Penguins have 14 comeback wins this season, marking the most such wins by any team through their first 25 games in NHL history.
How to Watch:
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: 105.9 The X