Game Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Buffalo Sabres

Winning isn't achieved by the deserving side sometimes and the Buffalo Sabres found momentum at the hands of both goaltenders Friday. Ryan Miller made the big routine saves and Vesa Toskala fumbled a Toni Lydman shot that would have went wide of the net leading to a second period onslaught. Toronto was intense, quick and the better squad but succumbed to Buffalo much like they in turn do to the Ottawa Senators. With the Senators and Bruins both losing, the Sabres have extra breathing space in the Northeast Division.

Food poisoning or not, the Sabres need to have a sophisticated plan for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury isn't going to gift wrap a goal and he can steal a result too. And where Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers missed prime scoring chances, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin won't. These two teams split the season series in 2009 with both winning once on the road.

Ten thoughts on the game below.

  • First and foremost, Paul Gaustad made his much appreciated return to the line-up yesterday racking up 19:36 in ice time, a plus-one rating and went 12-for-15 in the face-off circle. It was really evident how much he was missed in the last department during his absence. Gaustad's presence is assuring because you always know what you'll get from him and that's a lot if I may say so.
  • Crosby is having some year with 22 goals and 20 assists in 34 games. On pace for 52 goals, he's added another dimension to his game by firing the puck 128 times on target or 13 less than Alexander Ovechkin albeit he competed in seven more matches. Regardless, Crosby is staggeringly threatening with this new approach.
  • Miller was brilliant in fending off Toronto so Patrick Lalime will start for Buffalo. In his last game, he stopped 39 Chicago Blackhawk shots for his first victory of the season and has to be looking forward to a second large task in the span of eight days.
  • Sergei Gonchar has 19 points in 23 games but the Penguins have another exciting offensive defenseman. Alex Goligoski has an impressive 17 points in 25 games along with a plus-12 rating bringing excellent offensive instincts and knowledge. When Gonchar retires, look for this kid to quarterback the Pittsburgh powerplay for years. Sorry Kris Letang.
  • Buffalo's closest forward to consistent production has been Derek Roy who has ten points in the last 11 games. He had a goal against the Maple Leafs as did Thomas Vanek and the Sabres could use their top levels if they're to one-up the Penguins.
  • Pittsburgh welcomed Chris Kunitz back last weekend after a one-month layoff and he has two points in three games since. Playing with Crosby and Bill Guerin, the winger is a gritty individual who can hit hard and provide some offense.
  • Suffering a concussion from a dirty Jarkko Ruutu check, Patrick Kaleta is out again. Nathan Gerbe remains questionable with groin issues. Pittsburgh has a clean bill of health throughout the roster.
  • Jordan Staal has 14 points in 16 games, Malkin has 17 in 14 and Guerin has 12 in 16. Pittsburgh thrives on the powerplay usually and the Sabres must keep their feet moving to avoid any lazy infractions.
  • The line of Gaustad, Adam Mair and Matt Ellis was flying yesterday with their fore-checking, cycling and work along the boards. Ellis scored his second marker of the year and for a guy that works as hard as he does, it was well earned. 
  • Pittsburgh and Buffalo are close in a few categories like points, wins, special teams, shots on goal per game and face-off percentage. A back and forth affair is expected between two quick squads that can counter-attack in a heartbeat.

Buffalo hasn't shown worry to facing the more gifted NHL clubs because after all, they are in that position themselves currently. Lalime will look to prove that he can take the reigns in Miller's days off and that would make the season more comfortable for all. Easier said than done when Pittsburgh has no injuries at all. 

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