PITTSBURGH – The Buffalo Sabres are aware their special teams have to improve if they are to compete Saturday with the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center.
Buffalo scored its first power-play goal of the season Thursday in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins. The Penguins, who have also killed 22 consecutive penalties, scored one more power-play goal in a 3-0 win Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings than the Sabres have through their first 11 games this season.
Pittsburgh’s NHL-best power play dipped in percentage to a 39.5 percent success rate following Thursday. Buffalo’s rose to 2.9 percent.
Sabres forward Drew Stafford said Buffalo must stay out of the penalty box and force the Penguins to play 5-on-5, where Pittsburgh’s bottom-six has struggled to produce, in order to earn its third win of the season.
“Discipline is key,” Stafford said. “You don’t want to give a team like that with the skilled players they have and the dangerous guys they have, you don’t want to give them any extra time or space or opportunity to get momentum. I think their power play is extremely dangerous, obviously.
“One key strategy on our part is to stay as disciplined as possible.”
The Sabres moved forward Cody Hodgson to third-line center and forward Cody McCormick to the fourth line between forwards Nicolas Deslauriers and Brian Flynn. Sabres coach Ted Nolan said he expects Hodgson to play a complete game, with a defensive mindset.
“If you want to play center … you have to go both ends and play defense and play offense,” Nolan said. “It’s not just a one-way track where you wait at the blue line and wait to see what happens. There’s defensive responsibilities and Cody has to get better.”
Penguins defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who scored 33 points and six goals with the Sabres last season, said he hasn’t been able to watch his former team play, but that it has been hard to hear of its struggles.
“I feel for the guys,” Ehrhoff said. “It’s tough to see and you don’t want to see a team struggle like that, but that’s just part of the game. There’s teams that are going to be at the bottom and it’s just tough to watch from the outside.”
Pittsburgh will use the same lineup it has since moving forward Evgeni Malkin back to center in a 4-3 overtime loss Oct. 23 against the Detroit Red Wings. Since that move, the Penguins are 3-0-1 and have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 17-7, including two shutouts in the past three games.
Here are the projected lineups:
Matt Moulson – Tyler Ennis – Drew Stafford
Torrey Mitchell – Zemgus Girgensons – Brian Gionta
Marcus Foligno – Cody Hodgson – Chris Stewart
Nicolas Deslauriers – Cody McCormick – Brian Flynn
Josh Gorges – Tyler Myers
Mike Weber – Tyson Strachan
Andre Benoit – Rasmus Ristolainen
Scratched: Nikita Zadorov, Andrej Meszaros
Injured: Matt Hackett (lower body), Patrick Kaleta (upper body)
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist
Pascal Dupuis – Evgeni Malkin – Blake Comeau
Nick Spaling – Brandon Sutter – Steve Downie
Zach Sill – Marcel Goc – Craig Adams
Olli Maatta – Kris Letang
Christian Ehrhoff – Paul Martin
Rob Scuderi – Simon Despres
Scratched: Jayson Megna
Injured: Beau Bennett (lower body), Robert Bortuzzo (lower body)
Status report: Maatta will play in his last game Saturday before undergoing surgery to remove a potentially cancerous tumor from the back of his neck next week. Bortuzzo, who has not played this season because of a lower-body injury, is expected to be ready to replace Maatta in the lineup … Buffalo sent forward Sam Reinhart, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, to Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League Friday. Reinhart had one assist in nine NHL games played.
Who’s Hot: Malkin has scored at least one point in each of Pittsburgh’s nine games this season. He is tied with Hornqvist for second on the Penguins with 12 points, three behind Crosby. Kunitz, who had three points and two goals Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings, is tied with Hornqvist for second on Pittsburgh with five goals … Stafford leads the Sabres with six points. He scored his first goal of the season Thursday against the Boston Bruins.