Tonight, the Buffalo Sabres head into the Consol Energy Center to play the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I think that’s nice, allowing an AHL team to scrimmage an NHL team in exhi – what? You’re telling me the NHL is actually going to COUNT this game?
Mother have mercy.
Tonight’s Opponent: The Pittsburgh Penguins
Record: 36-14-2, 74 pts.
Standings: First in Eastern Conference
Current Streak: Lost one
Let’s start with some facts. For starters, the Penguins have the best home record in the Eastern Conference, having gone 21-4-0 so far this season. Second, the Penguins are 4-0 in shootouts this year. Hmmm. Third, the Penguins are 7-2-1 in their last ten, so disregard that one game “losing streak” they are currently on – don’t get your hopes up. Finally, Pittsburgh is fourth in the NHL in scoring at 3.15 goals per game, and it only gives up 2.46.
Based on these facts, I would label tonight’s game “a mild challenge.”
Ha ha ha ha! Now there’s an understatement.
How does an opposing team prepare for the Penguins? Besides, pray, I mean? Because seriously, sometimes all you can do when you face a team this loaded on offense is hope that every single player recently lost a loved one, perhaps a cherished family pet, and that the entire team has sunk into a deep depression. It’s bad enough that the Penguins skate Sidney Crosby night in and night out, currently the NHL’s leading points-getter and arguably the best player in hockey today. They also throw Chris Kunitz at you (10th in scoring), and just to pile it on, they have Evgeni Malkin centering the second line – and he is the 14th ranked scorer in the NHL! No other team in the NHL has three players among the top fifteen scorers, and just to add insult to injury, the Penguins also have James Neal, who should be among the top 25 but has missed some games due to injury and a suspension.
There is good news for a team like Buffalo, though, and it is this: once you get past the Penguins’ top two lines, their scoring drops off, to the tune of only 13 goals scored by the third line in 52 games. Even more concerning perhaps is the fact that, since Pittsburgh lost top-line right winger Pascal Dupuis to a torn ACL on December 23, the Penguins are 9-4-1. Neal filled in for Dupuis on Crosby’s line for a while, but since he moved back down to the second line, Pittsburgh has only gotten one goal in nine games from its first-line right wingers. (Read more about this story here!) Clearly, Buffalo has to get the puck off of Crosby’s stick, force his linemates to carry the offensive load, and really take advantage of Pittsburgh’s third line.
So yes: the Pittsburgh Penguins are not indestructible. They can be beaten, as both Florida and Dallas have proven in the past week. Those two teams
combined to outscore the mighty Penguins 8-1, so the Sabres don’t necessarily have to expect a replay of the 4-1 beating Pittsburgh administered to them back in October. Still, even as slightly weakened as the Penguins are, they have the ability to explode offensively if Buffalo allows them to develop some momentum. Keep all of this in mind when you head over to fan picks thread later today!