The Buffalo Sabres have been strong on the penalty kill so far this season, but they’ll face their biggest challenge yet Saturday night in the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Buffalo currently has the eighth-ranked penalty kill in the League at 85.3 percent (35 of 41). The Penguins are tops in the NHL on the power play with 15 goals in 38 attempts (39.5 percent). Pittsburgh’s power play is the second-most efficient unit at home, licking at a 37.0 percent pace.
The puck drops from Consol Energy Center at 7 p.m. The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B. The game will air on Sportsnet One in Canada and can also be heard live on WGR 550.
The Sabres shorthanded units have killed off right of their 24 of their past 27 penalties against high-quality teams that have included Boston, Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles.
“We’re taking a lot of pride in it. Guys are going over the boards and they know they have a job to do,” Sabres forward Cody McCormick said. “They take a lot of weight for it and they want to make sure they’re doing it and that it’s a privilege to be out there.”
Buffalo will look to keep the Penguins on the outside and not allow shots from the slot. Evgeni Malkin (4+4) and Sidney Crosby (3+5) are tied for the League-lead in power-play points with eight each (Arizona’s Keith Yandle has one goal and seven assists with the man advantage).
What will help the units out the most, however, is playing the game as close to penalty free as possible.
“The best way to kill it is stay out of the box,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “They’re very potent. They’ve got really good, high-end players and when you give high-end players an opportunity, they’ll sting you and they’ll sting you good. We’ve got to be very patient tonight. We’ve got to be very disciplined.”
Marcus Foligno has become one player the Sabres have relied upon in shorthanded situations. He even had a prime scoring chance on the PK against the Bruins on Thursday.
“One of my goals this year was to be an important part of that penalty kill,” he said. “So far, I think it’s working. If you can get offensive chances on the penalty kill, that’s great but there are some lethal power plays in the League and you can really get bit there so, just do your job, block shots and kill important penalties.”
KNOCKING ON OPPORTUNITY’S DOOR
With Sam Reinhart now back with his junior club in Kootenay, a spot in the lineup opens up for Brian Flynn.
“We knew that possibly this day would come that if Reinhart goes back, we’d need someone to jump in,” Nolan said. “Flynner was unfortunately the odd guy out at the moment but we pushed him hard in practice and kept him alert and kept him informed just in case. He’s been a true pro about it and now he gets his opportunity.”
Tyson Strachan will also stay in the lineup. The 6-foot-3, 215 pound defenseman has been steady for Buffalo in the two games he’s played so far this season. Nolan also thinks he adds some cohesion and chemistry to the backend.
“Strachan plays the way Strachan plays. We didn’t ask him to come and do coast-to-coast rushes for us. We asked to be a reliable defensive defenseman for us and he did that well,” Nolan said.
Cody Hodgson will return to center on a line between Foligno and Chris Stewart. Jhonas Enroth will start for Buffalo. He made 34 saves Thursday night against the Bruins.
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
17 Torrey Mitchell – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 12 Brian Gionta
82 Marcus Foligno – 19 Cody Hodgson – 80 Chris Stewart
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 8 Cody McCormick – 65 Brian Flynn
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
6 Mike Weber – 24 Tyson Strachan
61 Andre Benoit – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth
Healthy Scratches: 41 Andrej Meszaros, 51 Nikita Zadorov
Injured Reserve: 31 Matt Hackett, 36 Patrick Kaleta