PITTSBURGH - No team is immune to the occasional lull in their season, even the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Such is the position that the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in as the Sabres visit PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday night.
The Penguins have one win in their last five games, and their average of 2.63 goals per game ranks 25th in the NHL. It's an uncharacteristic start for a team that perennially ranks near the top of the league, so much so that the Sabres aren't willing to put much stock into it.
"Everybody goes through it, right? Even the top team in the league," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "They've played a lot of hockey the last three years. Sometimes that can catch up and as far as their schedule goes early, they had a lot of back-to-backs, a lot of games in a short period of time."
Video: HOUSLEY: Pregame Interview
In order to slow down a star-laden roster including the likes of Sidney Crosby (13 points this season), Phil Kessel (22) and Evgeni Malkin (20), Buffalo's approach will be similar to the mindset they employed against the Washington Capitals last Tuesday, a 3-1 Sabres win.
The goal, defenseman Josh Gorges said, is to force the Penguins to play in their own zone as much as possible. When the Penguins do get chances, the Sabres need to limit the amount of time they have to make plays.
"You play these guys and their high-end skill and talent level, you've got to try to take their time and space away," Gorges said. "You've got to be in their face early and make them make tough plays. They're going to make plays. They're going to go out there and do what they do, they're the best in the game. But you've got to try and make life as miserable as possible."
The Sabres, too, have struggled to find the back of the net as of late. They've scored one goal in three of their last four games, the win over Washington being the exception, including a 2-1 overtime loss in Montreal on Saturday.
The Sabres felt they played well enough to win that game over the Canadiens, and Housley said it was one of their best efforts this season in terms of establishing a presence at the net front.
"We've still got more," forward Jason Pominville said. "We only were able to score one goal. It was a power-play goal, so you've got to be able to score more 5-on-5 to win games in this league. So yeah, it was good, but at the end of the day it wasn't good enough."
Coverage on Tuesday begins at 6:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.
Bailey reassigned to Rochester
The Sabres activated forward Justin Bailey from injured reserve and reassigned him to Rochester following practice with the team on Monday. Housley explained the move was made for Bailey to reestablish his confidence following a five-game absence due to a lower-body injury.
"He's been out for a while, get his timing back, get his confidence back," Housley said. "I thought he started out well the first couple games. I thought his play dipped a bit after that, that urgency he had on the forecheck using his speed and even in providing a physical element."
With a power-play goal in Montreal on Saturday, Ryan O'Reilly has now scored 12 points (6+6) in his last 12 games. O'Reilly has 13 points in 17 games this season, which ties him with Pominville for third on the team.
Evander Kane, meanwhile, has kept up his point-per-game pace with nine goals and eight assists in 17 games, which leads the team. From Sabres PR, if Kane scores a goal against the Penguins, it will be the fastest he's reached 10 goals in a season in his career (he reached the mark in 22 games in 2011-12).
For Pittsburgh, Kessel enters the night with goals in three straight games. His 22 points not only leads the Penguins, but ties him for sixth in the NHL.
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
67 Benoit Pouliot - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson - 29 Jason Pominville
17 Jordan Nolan - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 13 Nicholas Baptiste
6 Marco Scandella - 41 Justin Falk
19 Jake McCabe - 27 Taylor Fedun
4 Josh Gorges - 82 Nathan Beaulieu
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson