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Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins


THE FUNDAMENTALS
Pittsburgh Penguins (13-5-3-29) at Buffalo Sabres (10-8-3-23)

Where:
HSBC Arena
When:
Friday, November 28, 7:30 p.m.
Radio:
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV:
FSN Pittsburgh.
Season Series:
Pittsburgh leads 1-0. The Penguins will play their first game in Buffalo. Pittsburgh scored four goals in the third period to earn a 5-2 victory over the Sabres on Nov. 15.
 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Talbot-Crosby-Satan
Dupuis-Malkin-Sykora
Kennedy-Staal-Cooke
Fedotenko-Zigomanis-Godard

Defense
Orpik-Letang
Gill-Goligoski
Boucher-Scuderi

Netminder
Sabourin

  Pens vs. Sabres 11/15/08

 
KEYS TO VICTORY
Mental Metal: Buffalo snapped a five-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory over Boston on Wednesday. The Sabres will be a little loose and relieved when the Penguins come to town. But the rough losing streak is still fresh in their minds. If the Penguins can assert their will early, then the "here we go again" attitude may sneak into the Sabres' minds. That will get Buffalo to play conservative and will greatly benefit Pittsburgh's aggressive attack.

Trail in the Third: However, if Pittsburgh can't get that early lead, then it may actually benefit them to play from behind. It seems bizarre to suggest that being behind in the third period would lead to a victory. However, the Penguins have an NHL-best 10 comeback wins on the season, including one against Buffalo earlier this month. For some reason, Pittsburgh seems to play its best hockey when they're losing. Maybe they play with more urgency or simply raise their play against the adversity. You typically don't want to be losing in the third period but the Penguins have figured out some formula for success. Why mess with a good thing?
 
LOWDOWN ON THE SABRES
Following the lockout, the Sabres made back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals. They didn’t make it to the Big Show on either occasion but appeared to be 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 with one team. Ruff has a reputation for getting the best out of his lineups. The Sabres didn’t lose a game in regulation until Oct. 27, going 6-0-2 out of the gate. However, they’ve since hit a wall with only two wins in their previous nine games. Buffalo went 2-6-1 during that stretch, including a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh.
 
NEW FACES
Briere and Drury jumped ship prior to last season. The slumping Sabres opted to part ways with All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell when contract negotiations broke down and with the team out of playoffs. Buffalo also lost defenseman Dmitri Kalinin in free agency. 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.
 
FORWARDS
Buffalo has had mixed success scoring goals this season, averaging 2.71 per game to rank 18th 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 season, when it sent him 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. He currently leads the NHL (tied) with 15 goals this season. 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 eight goals and nine assists for 17 points. Derek Roy led the Sabres last year with 81 points on 32 goals and 49 assists. He scored two big goals in Buffalo’s 3-2 win over Boston on Wednesday to snap its losing streak. 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 of 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 over a month this year with a back and chest injury and he’s currently sidelined with a rib injury. Johan Hecht is a reliable two-way player. Daniel Paille is looking to improve on his 19-goal, 35-point rookie campaign.
 
DEFENSEMEN
The Sabres defense has performed much better than expected after entering the season without two quality defensemen from last year, Campbell and Kalinin. Still, the unit is allowing 2.90 goals per game, ranking 16th in the NHL. The return of Numminen has been 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 10 points in 21 games. Henrik Tallinder, Toni Lydman, Andrej Sekera and Nathan Paetsch round out the group.
 
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 been a starter in the league and can carry the load if necessary.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: RYAN MILLER
Miller has good size at 6-foot-2 and is fluid moving around the crease. He has great reflexes and a solid technique. Miller started the season on fire. He won his first five games, allowing only nine goals during that period. On the current campaign, Miller improved his numbers in a few categories with a 9-5-2 mark, 2.53 GAA and .910 save percentage. He’s a difference maker that can steal a victory for Buffalo. However, Miller and the Sabres are fighting through a rough stretch right now. Miller bounced back with a win against a hot Boston team. Miller can’t be held down too long and Buffalo is relying on him to get the team back on track.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
"We responded tonight but we have to keep it going."
- Derek Roy told the Buffalo News on snapping the team's five-game losing streak
 
HIDDEN STAT
5: Straight wins over Buffalo for the Penguins.
 
 

Author: Sam Kasan

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