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Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (10-4-2-22) vs Buffalo Sabres (9-4-3-21)

Where: Mellon Arena
When: Saturday, November 15, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Notes: Pittsburgh will wear its blue "third jersey" for the first time this season. They wore the alternate uniform last season in the Winter Classic at Buffalo. They will be in blue 10 more times this year.


Contain Vanek: Thomas Vanek is as dangerous as they come in the NHL. He’s a notched 104 goals in his first three NHL seasons and is a threat on the penalty kill. Pittsburgh’s power play gave up two shorthanded goals against Philadelphia and should be wary of Vanek’s presence.

Miller Time: Ryan Miller is a top-tier netminder. He’s the type of goalie that can steal a win, or even a playoff series. In his first two seasons, he led his squad to the Eastern Conference Finals both years. It will be a difficult challenge for the Penguins to get the better of Miller, but he will be the difference between a win or loss.
Following the lockout, the Sabres made back-to-back berths in the Eastern Conference Finals. They didn’t make it to the Big Show on either occasion but appeared on the cusp of a championship. That was until the team lost three of its best players and missed the playoffs entirely last season. Forwards Daniel Briere and Chris Drury defected in free agency. Then top defenseman Teppo Numminen was diagnosed with a heart ailment. Numminen rehabbed all season and played his first and only game in the team’s final game of the season in an emotional affair.

Lindy Ruff enters his 12th straight season behind the bench for Buffalo, by far the longest tenured active coach. Ruff, as usual, is getting the best out of his current lineup. The Sabres didn’t lose a game in regulation until Oct. 27, going 6-0-2 out of the gate. They are currently riding a 3-2-1 streak into Pittsburgh after falling, 6-1, against Columbus on Friday night. The Sabres are the sixth team that will play Pittsburgh after playing a game on the previous evening this season.
Briere and Drury jumped ship prior to last season. The slumping Sabres opted to trade away All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell when contract negotiations broke down. Buffalo also lost defenseman Dmitri Kalinin in free agency to the N.Y. Rangers. General manager Darcy Regier sent two draft picks to San Jose for veteran defenseman Craig Rivet. Then he signed the well-traveled Patrick Lalime to backup All-Star Ryan Miller. Neither move was a blockbuster deal but appears to have helped solidify the team.
Buffalo has had mixed success scoring goals this season, averaging 2.88 per game to rank 17th in the league. They would really have struggled to score if Edmonton had stolen young sniper Thomas Vanek, who netted 45 and 36 goals the past two seasons, with an offer sheet. Buffalo wisely matched the offer to keep Vanek in a Sabres uniform. He’s their most explosive scorer and can single-handedly change a game. Jason Pominville has matured into a quality forward, scoring 61 goals and 148 points in the last two seasons. He’s currently second on the team with six goals and six assists for 12 points. Derek Roy led the Sabres last year with 81 points on 32 goals and 49 assists. Drew Stafford is a big body at 6-foot-2, 213-pounds. He’s a physical forward that won’t shy away from contact, though he has suffered a concussion, as well as shoulder and ankle injuries as a result of his bruising style.

Tim Connolly hasn’t had a healthy season since before the lockout. He saw only 48 games on action last year with hip and abdominal injuries, and a concussion cost him nearly an entire season (only two games played) two years prior. Connolly missed a month this year with a back injury and he’s currently listed as questionable against the Penguins with a bruised chest but did play Friday night versus Columbus. Johan Hecht is a reliable two-way player. Daniel Paille is looking to improve on his 19-goal, 35-point rookie campaign.
The Sabres defense has performed much better than expected after entering the season without two quality players from last year, Campbell and Kalinin. The unit is allowing 2.50 goals per game, seventh best in the NHL. The return of Numminen is a huge boost to the defensive corps and adds stability to the blue line. But he is 40 years old and missed all but one game last year. He may not reclaim his status as the top dog but then again, he rehabbed aggressively all last year just to play in one game. So don’t count him out.

Craig Rivet is a well-rounded defenseman that moves the puck well and can start the breakout. He logs a lot of power-play minutes and put up 30 assists last season. He’s not very physical but he won’t shy away from contact. Jaroslav Spacek is off to a great start with nine points in 16 games. Andrej Sekera is a finesse player that will get physical. Henrik Tallinder, Toni Lydman and Nathan Paetsch round out the group.
A huge amount of credit for Buffalo’s impressively low goals against is attributed to the goaltending. Ryan Miller is the cornerstone to the Sabres franchise. He rose from obscurity after being a fifth-round pick (138th overall) to become the backbone of the Sabres. Buffalo allowed star player after star player to leave in free agency, but they made sure to lock up Miller to a long-term deal. He was a workhorse last season, playing in 76 games and stopping 1,907 pucks. Miller went 36-27-10 with a 2.64 goals against average and .906 save percentage. To give Miller a chance to stay fresh for a postseason push, the Sabres signed former Penguin and journeyman Patrick Lalime, who went 16-12-2 with Chicago last season. He's an experienced backup that can give Buffalo quality minutes.
Thomas Vanek doesn’t get a ton of publicity playing in small-market Buffalo but he is one of the best finishers in the NHL. He was the hottest player in the league during the first two weeks of the season - and was off to the best start of his career - netting seven goals in the first five games. He’s cooled off since that torrid pace but still leads the team with 15 points and is second in the league (tied) with 12 goals. The former University of Minnesota standout has blazing speed and accelerates better than most in the league. Vanek has an extra gear and a knack for getting pucks behind goalies. He’s also seeing a lot of action on the penalty kill and has scored two shorthanded goals this year. Pittsburgh’s power-play point men better be aware of where he is on the ice before he adds another shorty.
“Miller is the backbone of the team. They have a defensive group that
moves the puck really well. They have a lot of speed up front too.”
- Brooks Orpik on Buffalo
1: The number of power-play goals the Sabres have allowed in seven road games this season, tops in the NHL.

Author: Sam Kasan

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