BUFFALO — Back in 2018, the Buffalo Sabres (12-13-1) traded Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues. They wanted Robert Thomas or Jordan Kryou but accepted Tage Thompson. The decision is paying handsome dividends now as the 6-foot-6 center is filling the net and is a top-five NHL scorer. The Pittsburgh Penguins are churning along, stacking wins (14-8-4), and methodically dialing in their game.
The puck drops just after 7 p.m. at the Key Bank Center. It is the first of a rare and usually fun back-to-back, home-and-home series. The Sabres visit the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday.
The Penguins have points in 12 of their last 14 games, including 10 wins (10-2-2).
The Penguins had an emotional day at practice on Thursday. Defenseman Kris Letang returned just 10 days after his second stroke in eight years. Letang is officially day-to-day and could play on Friday, but it seems unlikely. Letang and his doctor addressed the media on Thursday after practice, indicating that Letang was working towards clearance.
The Penguins overcame a horribly slow start against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, then dominated their Metro Division rival in a 4-1 win. The win followed another strong performance and a win on Saturday over the Vegas Golden Knights.
The only facet of the Penguins game not clicking is the power play, but even that netted a goal on Tuesday.
“I think they’re gaining traction. Most recently, we’ve seen a semblance of a power play that we’re used to, just with their puck possession, the plays they make, their execution,” Sullivan said. “When those guys feeling it, they’re pretty good.”
The Sabres will be fresh from a headline-grabbing win on Wednesday. Thompson scored four goals in the first period and five overall in the Sabres’ 9-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
While fans across the league tuned in to see more, Thompson and the Sabres’ top players skated sparingly in the third period.
Special teams could play a deciding role. The Penguins PK is rising fast, but the Sabres’ power play is third in the NHL at 29%. They’re pretty good. However, the Sabres’ penalty kill has an abysmal 71.3% kill rate and is ranked 27th.
It’s a Friday night. Make the short drive up (my hotel in Hamburg is $60 per night and gets a 7+ review).
In keeping with the NHL orthodoxy that posits the No. 1 goalie plays the first of back-to-backs, Tristan Jarry is likely to start on Friday. Jarry improved his record to 11-3-3 and upped his save percentage to .919 by stopping 38 of 39 shots on Tuesday.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkenen is the likely starter for the Sabres. His statistics leave a bit to be desired, with a 3.98 GAA and .859 save percentage this season.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
Expected Buffalo Sabres Lines, per PuckPedia.com:
Penguins Power Play: 16 of 87, 18.4%, 26th
Penguins Penalty Kill: 15 of 82, 81.7%, 7th
Sabres Power Play: 29 of 100, 29%, 3rd
Sabres Penalty Kill: 25 of 87, 71.3%, 27th
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes:
In the last 11 games, the Penguins are 7-2-2 against Buffalo, outscoring them 38-24 with a power-play conversion rate of 46.4% (13/28).
The Penguins have points in 16 of their last 18 visits to Buffalo (13-2-3) dating back to Mar. 30, 2012.
The Penguins have points in seven-straight road games (6-0-1).
Sidney Crosby continues to lead the NHL in even-strength points (29).
Jake Guentzel has a five-game points streak (2-6-8).
Top-line magic: With Rickard Rakell, Sidney Crosby, and Jake Guentzel together, the Penguins are 11-1-2 (Oct. 13-20, Nov. 17-Present)
How to Watch:
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: 105.9 The X
Penguins Bets / DraftKings Promo
Bet against Dan and make money. So, we hit both bets on Tuesday (Penguins moneyline and the Under).
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Now, to the game. Buffalo is a tough read. They like to play offense, and they’re red-hot. However, the Penguins are quietly slicing through opponents. With a couple of days rest, Tristan Jary in goal, and the Penguins’ “feel good” moment getting Kris Letang back at practice, we think the Penguins are a good play.
We don’t think Buffalo can handle the Penguins’ low game (but we also like the younger Buffalo legs on Saturday), and Luukonen isn’t stopping many pucks.
Take the Moneyline and the Over (6.5). The teams are going to put up some goals tonight. Even a 4-3 win hits paydirt on both ends.