Penguins at Sabres Tonight
Pittsburgh is one of about six teams that figure to be in the mix for the last couple playoff spots this season. Like Washington, they feature one superstar, one or two players who may well end up being superstars, and a whole bunch of young players. As such, they are streaky, often dependent on one player or one line, and often lose games they should probably win. The upside, however, is incredible. Considering all the turmoil surrounding the franchise in terms of ownership issues, the possible sale of the team, and the threat of relocation, I can’t help but think the team is doing fairly well. Maybe they’re too young to notice, but there is much uncertainty surrounding the players and their futures. Or at least their future location, anyway. Currently, the Pens are 11th in the East, but they trail eigth place Toronto (yuck) by just two points, and have three games in hand. With a 5-4-1 record in their last ten games they are kind of treading water. The streakiness I alluded to earlier has been on display of late, with recent runs of four losses, followed by four wins, followed by five straight losses. The Sabres best beware because the Pens have won two straight and are coming off a 3-0 victory over Carolina. Sidney Crosby shows no signs of a sophomore slump, and if he isn’t the best player in hockey right now, there’s no reason to think he won’t be in two years. His presence alone should be selling out buildings for years to come as people realize what they are watching. With 61 points he leads Marian Hossa by five in the NHL scoring race, and his league-leading 42 assists attest to the completeness of his game. But Crosby is not the lone talent on this Pittsburgh squad. His winger, Evgeni Malkin, has 18 goals and is leading the rookie scoring race. Another center, Jordan Staal, already has 11 goals on the year. What Pittsburgh lacks is depth, as those three players are the only Pens in double digits in goals this season. In net the Penguins have yet another young talent in Marc-Andre Fleury. With 16 wins and a .903 save percentage the 22-year-old netminder is progressing nicely after debuting at the tender age of 20. He comes into this game on a hot streak, stopping 61 of his last 62 shots. The Sabres won the first meeting between these teams in Buffalo in November when they beat backup goalie Jocelyn Thibault 4-2. Despite the fact that Fleury has gotten the last five starts, I would expect to see him in net tonight as the Pens are coming off a three day break. The Penguins are 0-3-1 in since 2003 in the HSBC. Pittsburgh will be without winger Nils Ekman tonight as he is out with a dislocated elbow. We will get to see ex-Sabre Chris Thorburn, however. With three goals and two assists he plays on Pittsburgh’s fourth line and manages to see his fair share of time in the penalty box. It’s not clear who will start in net tonight for the Sabres as Lindy Ruff announced that Martin Biron will play in one game this weekend. Only three of his ten starts this year have been at home, and he has yet to start in the HSBC when Ryan Miller is healthy. One of those starts when Miller was out was for the Sabres victory over Pittsburgh in November. Other than Tallinder, the Sabres have a full crew tonight. Henrik will be missed, but Nathan Paetsch filled in admirably for him earlier this season. It’s another late-night Friday start, which should allow for proper pre-game lubrication at Coulter Bay. Mark and I will be there, along with BfloBlog contributor Trevor, who is making the trip up from Maryland to visit an old college buddy. Anybody who feels like buying me drinks is more than welcome to join us.