The Buffalo Sabres have taken on the unenviable task of playing spoiler to teams vying for a playoff spot. That will not be the case Tuesday night since the Pens have already clichéd the Eastern Conference’s top spot, but the Sabres will still look to salvage a win from the East’s top team in their second to last game of the season.
Buffalo was somewhat of a spoiler to the Pens earlier this month when they snapped Pittsburgh’s 15-game winning streak that was just two wins shy of tying the franchise’s own NHL record. Since that 4-1 upset over the Pens on April 2, the Sabres’ game has seemed to have received a boost.
Buffalo has gone 5-4-0 since that matchup, losing their last two by a combined score of 10-5 – eliminating them from playoff contention.
The Sabres are now playing for pride and have gotten some injured players back, as forward Thomas Vanek has returned after missing 10 games with an upper body injury. Vanek has earned three points (1G-2A) in Buffalo’s last four games, including one goal and one assist in the Sabres’ 3-2 shootout victory over the Boston Bruins last Wednesday. Vanek was sidelined the last time Buffalo played Pittsburgh, but produced two points (1G-1A) in the Pens’ 4-3 win in Buffalo on Feb. 17.
But while Vanek’s return is certainly positive news for the Sabres, sophomore forward Cody Hodgson hasn’t been able to completely replicate his hot play from February and March in the first half of this month. He’s responsible for just four points (3G-1A) in 10 April games, though he does rank second on the team in goals (15) and points (32).
The Sabres have been getting players like Steve Ott stepping up to carry the workload. Ott started the month with a goal in three straight games and is fourth on the team in points with 23 (8G-15A), behind Vanek, Hodgson and Tyler Ennis.
Although Buffalo’s has struggled on the back end at times this month, April losses, the driving force of the Sabres’ hot start to April was its defensive play and the reenergized output of goalie Ryan Miller. In their six wins this month prior to Friday’s 8-4 loss to the Rangers, the Sabres held a 1.33 goals against average.
Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has been a dual threat this season, earning 22 points (5G-17A) while holding a team-high plus-11 rating. Meanwhile, Miller holds a 2.89 GAA and.912 save percentage..
Tyler Ennis – Cody Hodgson – Thomas Vanek
Steve Ott – Kevin Porter – Brian Flynn
Jochen Hecht – Mikhail Grigorenko – Drew Stafford
John Scott – Marcus Foligno – Nathan Gerbe
Christian Ehrhoff – Andrej Sekera
Adam Pardy – Mark Pysyk
Mike Weber – Chad Ruhwedel
SABRES: STEVE OTT
While Buffalo’s top line has cooled with Vanek coming off an injury and Hodgson struggling, the Sabres have had to look to their second unit to get the job done and Ott has been willing and able so far in April. He potted three goals in three straight games to start the month, including what proved to be the game-winning goal in Buffalo’s 4-1 win over the Penguins on April 2.
PENGUINS: BRENDEN MORROW
With Buffalo’s defense improving drastically lately, the Pens might need some grit to get the job done. Enter Brenden Morrow, who has been a forced to be reckoned with around the crease since the Penguins acquired him. Morrow has 11 points (5G-6A) in 12 games played with Pittsburgh and has shown he is more than willing to go to the dirty areas in order to make things difficult on opposing goaltenders.
F Beau Bennett, upper body
F Sidney Crosby, broken jaw
D Kris Letang, food poisoning
F Evgeni Malkin, upper body
D Paul Martin, broken bone in hand
F James Neal, concussion
F Ville Leino, upper body
D Tyler Myers, broken leg
D Alexander Sulzer, knee