Buffalo Sabres — 32-14-7 (71 points)
Pittsburgh Penguins — 34-21-1 (69 points)
Buffalo is in first place in the Northeast division and Pittsburgh appears to be firmly planted in playoff position with less than 30 games left. Tonight’s game is a matchup of teams who may be squaring off again this spring.
Ryan Miller has been nothing short of Vezina-worthy this year, but it’s backup and former Penguin Patrick Lalime who continues to give Pittsburgh fits.
December 19, 2009. HSBC Arena
Pens Win, 2-1
Goals: Kunitz, Letang (SO)
December 29, 2009. HSBC Arena
Penguins lose, 4-3
Goals: Staal, Guerin, Kunitz
Play With a Vengeance
The last time these teams met, Pittsburgh jumped Ryan Miller to the tune of three straight goals, chasing him from the goal and bringing in veteran Patrick Lalime in relief.
Lalime stymied the Pens from that point on, and Buffalo scored four unanswered to beat the Pens at home.
Now just three points back of Buffalo, Pittsburgh has a chance to avenge December 29’s meltdown in Buffalo with a second-straight home win.
This is the first time this season Buffalo and Pittsburgh meet at Mellon Arena, where Pittsburgh has yet to record back-to-back wins since December 12th and 15th.
They’ll have the chance to get on track at home tonight, playing the second of back-to-back games. Buffalo last played Friday, a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins.
Overall, the Pens are 16-10-1 at home this season. The Sabres are 14-9-2 on the road. Prior to winning their last two, the Sabres lost the final four of a seven-game road swing through the West.
The Mellon Arena came alive Sunday against Detroit like it hasn’t all season. Playing a strong, fast game against an infamous opponent, the home crowd was treated to one of the most complete games the team has played all year.
The Penguins have won three of their last four. In those three wins, the Penguins played a back-and-forth yet defensively sound game with playoff-type intensity. An issue with Pittsburgh of late has been putting together a 60 minute game. It will take a “Detroit” sort of effort to take out a very good Buffalo team.
Ryan Miller has struggled against the Pens recently, but don’t be surprised if he pulls out a big game Monday night. Beating Miller (and all elite goaltenders) takes a certain number of rebound chances, secondary shots and hard drives to the net.
The Penguins landed 47 shots on Jimmy Howard Sunday. Miller is more than capable of stealing a game, but an effort like fans saw from the Pens Sunday ought to yield more than one goal.
The Penguins power play stays where it has been for most of the season, now 27th in the league (16.2%). Buffalo has the league’s 14th-ranked PP (18.4%).
The penalty kill has remained a strong suit for the Pens, killing 82.9 percent of its chances, good for 11th in the league. Buffalo’s kill is second only to San Jose, working at 87.2 percent success.
Both teams play a relatively well-disciplined game, so special teams likely won’t be as important as in a match with Philadelphia (52 PIM combined). With that, this game will likely be won in 5-on-5 play.
Ryan Miller: 29-11-5 — 2.03 GAA — .935 SV%
Marc Andre Fleury: 27-15-1 — 2.55 GAA –.909 sv%
*Winger Max Talbot (groin) will miss his second straight game. Talbot did not participate in the Penguins optional skate.
Chris Kunitz continues to progress and will return to the lineup against Montreal this week. On Thursday, it will be the 4 week mark since Kunitz had abdominal surgery in Philadelphia, by Dr. William Meyers.
There is word that Sergei Gonchar remains bothered by a sore right foot but is expected to play.
Morning Skate Update
Dan Bylsma would not commit on whether Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin will play together tonight but did hint that the two will continue to see time together with Mark Letestu expected to center the third line again.
Inconsistency in the defensive zone has plagued the Penguins for much of the past two months but the team played a sound defensive game against Detroit, coming off a lackluster effort against Ottawa. Dan Bylsma talked this morning about how he’s still looking for improvement and wants to see more involvment from his defensemen in the offensive zone.
“I think there is room for improvement in our game as a team, that would include the defensemen being a part of the offense, ” Bylsma said.
“I think there’s a misnomer that you have to have talented players like Gonchar to have your defense be active in offense. It’s a part of coming out of D zone, activating your defense. They’re not the rush. They are supporting the rush. Without that you miss an element that you can add with having the puck on your stick and getting numbers into the attack and carrying the puck up the ice.”
“The other part of that is in the offensive zone, how you use them, moving them around while you maintain possession of the puck. It’s another way to get defensemen active in the offense and giving them opportunities. It’s not just depending on their skill level. Whether you have Rob Scuderi or Alex Goligoski in your lineup, you still expect them to be a part of how you’re playing with the puck, both coming out of D- zone and in the offensive zone. It’s an area that’s a part of our team but it can get better with how we do it.”
Fedotenko – Crosby – Guerin
Dupuis – Staal – Malkin
Cooke – Letestu – Kennedy
Rupp – Adams – Johnson
Orpik – Gonchar
Eaton – Letang
McKee – Goligoski
Marc Andre Fleury will start in goal