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Game Preview: Scouting Penguins @ Sabres

Penguins Game Day

When: November 24 2010 | Where: HSBC Arena
The Penguins have points in six straight, 11 out of a possible 12, and have won three straight. Pittsburgh travels to Buffalo Wednesday to face a shorthanded Sabres squad who is fighting to dig itself out of an early-season hole. The Pens can sweep their two-game Dad’s Trip with a win at HSBC.
PITTSBURGH
12-8-2, 26 pts.
2nd Atlantic, 5th East
5-5-1 Home, 7-3-1 Away
6-3-1 Last 10
BUFFALO
8-11-3, 19 pts.
4th Northeast, 12th East
3-7-1 Home, 5-4-2 Away
5-4-1 Last 10

MATCHUP

Pittsburgh and Buffalo are both recovering from early-season struggles. Pittsburgh’s recent surge has coincided with the surge in Marc-Andre Fleury’s play of late. Fleury has started each of the Pens last six games, moving his season mark to 6-6-1 after a start of 0-6-1. The power play has even made a cameo, landing two early goals against a good defensive Florida unit.
Buffalo is finding its footing with points in six of its last ten games, but continues to languish in the very competitive Northeast Division. Buffalo trails Boston, Montreal and Ottawa, and even Toronto has shown signs of life this year. Buffalo has won three in a row at home after starting the season 0-7-1 there.
Brent Johnson was scheduled to make his first start in seven games but is still feeling the effects of an illness and will not start tonight. Therefore, Marc Andre Fleury will make his seventh straight start.
Pittsburgh’s figures to have a significant advantage in goal tonight as the Sabres will start youngster Jhonas Enroth who is 2-1-1 on the season.
Pittsburgh took three of four from the Sabres last year, outscoring them 13-11 in those games.

SCOUTING REPORT

Pittsburgh is playing itself back into the conversation of being one of the top four teams in the East. The Pens are averaging 3.05 goals per game to Buffalo’s 2.55 per game. Pittsburgh is allowing 2.68 goals per game, while the Sabres average 3.09 against.
The Pens average 31.32 shots per game to 27.23 shots against per game. With Tied with St. Louis, they are allowing the fewest SOG per game in the league. Only four teams have a better shots-for/against differential than the Pens’ 4.1 number.
Buffalo lands 32.91 shots per game while allowing 28.91. The marks coincide with their poor team statistics. Buffalo is in the bottom third in the NHL in goals (2.5), goals against (3.1), power play percentage (12.8) and penalty kill percentage (79.5).
By comparison, Pittsburgh is 8th overall in goals (3.0), 11th in goals against (2.7) and 4th on the penalty kill (88.5 percent). Only the power play continues to languish at 20th (15.6 percent), although it has scored three times in its last two games.
Overall, Pittsburgh has scored 15 man-advantage goals to Buffalo’s 11, while allowing only 10. Buffalo has allowed 17 power play goals against. Buffalo has also allowed 4 shorthanded goals while scoring none.
The Pens have allowed three shorthanded tallies but landed four of their own, as Matt Cooke and Max Talbot continue to create two-man breaks seemingly once or twice per game. Pittsburgh’s penalty kill has been the best such unit in the NHL for the month of November, killing 37 of 39 chances (94.9 percent).
Pittsburgh is led by Sidney Crosby, as always, in goals, points and assists. Lately, the rest of the team has gotten in on the act.
Chris Kunitz has scored seven on the season now, landing a power play goal Friday against Carolina. Max Talbot now has four goals, two shorthanded, and three assists. Matt Cooke has 11 points on the season.
Its worth noting that Cooke and Talbot, two of the Pens’ top penalty killers, are a combined plus-6 on the season. Also worth noting that Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, two of the team’s top power play forwards, are a combined minus-4.
The Penguins speed line of Mark Letestu, Tyler Kennedy and Chris Conner came through in Monday night’s win. Tyler Kennedy assisted on Crosby’s power play goal while Letestu made an excellent set up pass on Conner’s game winning goal in the third.
The unit will remain together tonight.
Kris Letang leads all Pens defensemen with 19 points and leads the team with a plus-9 rating. Alex Goligoski is a plus-7 despite seeing his play slow down over the past few weeks. All told, only five regular starters are a minus.
Should also mention that Zbynek Michalek seems to be getting comfortable. Despite missing a number of games, Michalek already leads the team with 34 blocked shots. The team-worst minus-5 remains a concern, though.
Derek Roy leads the Buffalo Sabres in goals (9), assists (14) and points (23). His 23 points are tied for 11th in the NHL. Thomas Vanek leads the Sabres with 75 shots (Malkin leads the Pens with 94), and is riding a seven-game points streak. Vanek is second on the team with 17 points.
Former Penguin Jordan Leopold is also producing for Buffalo, tallying 5 goals and 9 assists with a plus-four rating. Leopold is third among NHL defensemen with 5 five goals. Leopold leads the Sabres with 24:01 TOI per game.
In net, the Penguins’ goaltending picture is coming into focus while the Sabres struggle to find consistency. Marc-Andre Fleury has improved his play greatly of late, moving his mark to .500 for the first time this season (2.88-.887).
Brent Johnson is 6-2-1 (2.11-.927) and has only made two starts in November at carrying the Penguins in the month of October. The Penguins had been hopeful to give him 4 starts this month.
Vezina-winner Ryan Miller will be held out of tonight’s game. Miller is 6-6-2 on the season (2.63-.909). Former Penguin Patrick Lalime is winless in four starts this year (3.03-.891) and appears to be fallen out of favor with the Sabres coaching staff.
Tonight’s starter, Jhonas Enroth is 2-1-1 in four starts (3.42-.876).

INJURIES

Only Jordan Staal remains out for the Penguins. Staal traveled with the team during their trip and continues to do some light skating. He remains out for several weeks.
Buffalo will shelve a number of regulars tonight. Forwards Tim Connolly (groin), Rob Niedermayer (knee) and Drew Stafford (upper body) are all scratches. Craig Rivet, Buffalo’s captain, will be a healthy scratch tonight. Ryan Miller will also sit with a groin injury.
Expected Lines
PITTSBURGH
Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis
Cooke – Talbot – Malkin
Conner – Letestu – Kennedy
Rupp – Adams – Comrie
Defensemen
Orpik – Letang
Martin – Michalek
Goligoski – Engelland
Marc-Andre Fleury
BUFFALO
Vanek – Roy – Ennis
Pominville – Hecht – Gerbe
Stuart – Gaustad – Grier
McCormick – Adam – Kaleta
Defensemen
Leopold – Mayers
Montador – Sekera
Morrisonn – Weber
Jhonas Enroth

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