The Buffalo Sabres will play their final home game until February 25 tonight as they host the Pittsburgh Penguins in a nationally televised pre-Olympic meeting.
Tonight’s game will see two teams at opposite ends of the Eastern Conference standings face off.
The Pittsburgh Penguins sit atop the conference with 80 points.
That’s good for fourth in the league, behind Anaheim, Chicago and St. Louis. Their record is 39-15-2, and they’ve got a plus-45 goal differential. Relevant to tonight’s game, their away record is pretty good, at 16-11-2. Finally, they’ve won seven of the last 10 games.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Sabres, with 38 points and a record of 15-32-8. Still sitting as the worst team in the league, Buffalo has a minus-57 goal differential and a league-low 107 goals-for. They’ve gone 2-5-3 in their last ten games and are 9-16-5 at home on the season.
The Penguins have a number of lethal players heading into tonight’s game.
Starting off: Sidney Crosby. He leads the team in goals (27, tied with Chris Kunitz), assists (48) and points (75). He also leads the team with 180 shots on goal, and is heading to the Olympics soon to represent – and captain – Team Canada.
Then there’s Chris Kunitz, who will join Crosby on the Canadian team. Kunitz has 55 points on the season, including 27 goals and 28 assists. He leads the Penguins with 12 power play goals.
Like Kunitz, Malkin has 55 points – including 39 assists. Neal missed several games due to injuries but has still managed to rack up 42 points (18-24) in 35 games.
Matt Niskanen leads the Penguins’ defense core with 32 points in 56 games played.
In addition to Crosby and Kunitz, five other Penguins players are headed to Sochi in the coming days. Malkin will represent Russia, while Jussi Jokinen and Olli Maatta will play for Finland. Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik will represent the United States. Add in head coach Dan Bylsma and assistant coach Tony Granato – both headed to Sochi with Team USA – and you’ve got a stacked Penguins roster.
The Sabres, meanwhile, have five of their own Olympic players. Ryan Miller will join Martin, Orpik, Bylsma and Granato on Team USA. Jhonas Enroth and Henrik Tallinder will represent Sweden, while Zemgus Girgensons will play for Latvia. Ted Nolan will also be behind the bench, coaching the Latvian squad.
Leading the Sabres in the NHL, however, is Cody Hodgson. The forward has 14 goals and 16 assists for a team-high 30 points this season. He’s been hot lately, scoring 11 points in his last 12 games since returning from injury, and also leads the team with six power play goals.
Also on that same hot streak is Tyler Ennis, who has 27 points on the season, including 11 in his last 12. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff leads the Sabres with 20 assists. Matt Moulson (24 pts) and Steve Ott (20 pts) are also among the top on the Sabres roster.
Moulson, however, is one of a few players who will be missing from tonight’s game. He was placed on injured reserve several days ago with an upper-body injury and will be out until after the Olympic break.
Cody McCormick has missed the last 22 games with an upper-body injury and will be out tonight as well.
Tyler Myers will be out for tonight. He left Monday’s game with a lower-body injury and is considered day-to-day at this point, but Ted Nolan said he’s not sure how much time he’ll miss. Also out tonight: Ville Leino and Zenon Konopka. Alexander Sulzer is expected to be a scratch, with Chad Ruhwedel coming in his place.
Of course, the Penguins have their own injury issues to deal with.
Taylor Pyatt was injured while delivering a hit on Monday and is out until after the Olympic break. Defenseman Kris Letang didn’t travel with the team to Buffalo and has missed the past few games due to an undisclosed illness.
Tonight’s game is the third and final meeting of the season between the Sabres and the Penguins. Pittsburgh has won both so far; first, a 4-1 win on October 5, then a 3-0 win on January 27, both at home. Thomas Vanek scored the lone goal against Pittsburgh this season, while Jhonas Enroth and Ryan Miller split the goaltending duties.
It’s expected that Miller will start tonight’s game against the Penguins. For Pittsburgh, the options are either Marc-Andre Fleury or Jeff Zatkoff, who has been up with the team since Vokoun was placed on IR with issues related to a blood clot.
Vokoun has recently started taking shots from players at practice, but has yet to return to a full workout.
Players to watch for Pittsburgh: Crosby, Kunitz, Malkin, Neal.
For Buffalo, keep an eye on Hodgson – he’s got five points (2-3) in his last five games versus the Penguins. Drew Stafford has 14 points (5-9( in 28 career games against Pittsburgh; he also has six points in his last five games overall. Hodgson and Ennis each have 11 points in their last 12 games, and Steve Ott has seven in his last eight.
Can the Sabres rally together and pull off an upset tonight against the Penguins? Stay tuned to find out.