And then there were two. The Pittsburgh Penguins (35-16-3) finish the final two games of the regular season beginning Thursday at PPG Paints Arena. Their opponent, the long-ago eliminated Buffalo Sabres (15-32-7), have enjoyed playing the spoiler as their young roster tries to earn jobs for next season.
The puck drops at 7 p.m.
The Penguins split with the Philadelphia Flyers earlier this week and rebounded with a 7-3 win on Tuesday night. Sidney Crosby broke a mini-slump with a pair of goals and a wrestling match with flyers forward Travis Konecny. Crosby had three goals in the two-game set.
Evgeni Malkin, who is working his way back into hockey shape after missing 23 games, had a pair of assists, too.
“We still have a lot to play for. That’s the discussion we had with our team,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We want to finish as high as we possibly can to put our team in the best position–to gain home-ice I thin that would be great for our team, but also we want to feel good about our game…”
The Pittsburgh Penguins are preparing for the playoffs–whenever they may be. The Buffalo Sabres are preparing for next season. After Buffalo fired head coach Ralph Krueger and put Don Granato behind the bench, the team speed flourished.
“They play with a free spirit…They’re young with a lot of skill. They have nothing to lose,” Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese said. “Those are always the most dangerous teams to play.”
Buffalo and the Penguins split a two-game set in April.
Injured Penguins winger Brandon Tanev did not take line rushes in the morning skate and has not yet been cleared to play. Also, defenseman Mike Matheson skated with skills coach Ty Hennes. Evan Rodrigues and Casey DeSmith are not yet skating.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines & Special Teams
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Rickard Rakell||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jason Zucker||Jeff Carter||Danton Heinen|
|Brock McGinn||Teddy Blueger||Evan Rodrigues|
|Mike Matheson||Kris Letang|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
|Mark Friedman||Chad Ruhwedel|
|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||15.1% (11-73) 27th NHL||92.2% (5-64) 1st NHL|
|Anaheim Ducks||26.3% (20-76) 5th NHL||86.3% (10-76) 3rd NHL|
What to Watch:
Hopefully, Buffalo has some juice left. Hopefully, the Penguins care enough to counter. The Buffalo Sabres like to play a speed game with aggressive puck pursuit and a Devil-may-care crash into the offensive zone.
Buffalo isn’t the toughest team, nor are they the deepest, but they have not wilted down the stretch. Count PHN as a fan of their resilience; hopefully, it’s more than the late-season surge of the 2003-04 Penguins, which had no translation to the next season.
The Penguins will need to begin life without Mike Matheson. Mark Friedman was uninjured by Shaye Gostisbehere’s boarding on Tuesday. Gostisbehere was suspended for two games. Friedman will have to up his game on the Penguins breakouts to rejuvenate that phase of the Penguins.
The Penguins can dominate Buffalo in the low zones and should get the puck there and keep it there. Less pretty, more gritty for the Penguins when they play Buffalo.
With the Bruins surge and the Islanders slump, first place will get the Islanders, which is a much better matchup for the Penguins than facing a third-place Bruins.
So, the Penguins should indeed have something to play for.
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
Position, Player (Consecutive Games Missed, Total Games Missed)
F Brandon Tanev (15 consecutive, 21 total)
F Evan Rodrigues (3 consecutive, 19 total)
D Mike Matheson (2 consecutive, 10 total)
G Casey DeSmith (1 consecutive, 2 total)
2020-21 Total Regular-Season Man-Games Lost: 264
-Tristan Jarry became the 16th goalie in franchise history to play 100 games with the team. Only Matt Murray (62) had more wins through their first 100 games with Pittsburgh than Jarry (58).
-The Penguins are tied for second in the NHL and one of just five teams in the league to win 20 games at home this season
–Sidney Crosby was a driving force behind the Penguins 7-3 win on Tuesday night. He collected his sixth three-point night of the season (1-2-3).
–Penguins defensemen have a combined 27 goals, which is sixth-most in the NHL.
How to Watch:
TV: AT&T SportsNet; Radio: 105.9 The X