What to Watch For: Pens vs. Sabres
Saturday, 02.18.2012 / 5:00 PM ET / Features
By Sam Kasan
PENGUINS (33-20-5) vs. SABRES (24-27-7)
WHEN: Feb. 19, 2012 - 12:30 pm | WHERE: First Niagara Center
WATCH: NBC | LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM
The Buffalo Sabres entered this season with a sense of optimism, but the team has had better days. The Sabres are on a four-game winless streak that has dropped them to last place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Sabres' rough season has seen them go 24-27-7, putting them nine points out of the eighth spot in the conference – meaning they would need a remarkable turnaround to even consider a postseason berth.
Buffalo’s struggles aren’t surprising when you consider that they are in the bottom third of the league in offense, defense, power play and penalty kill.
The Sabres are averaging only 2.36 goals per game, ranking 26th in the NHL. Their goals allowed per game is 2.91 (23rd). Buffalo’s power play is 20th in the league with a 16.2 percent rate. Their penalty killing unit is 23rd with an 80.5 success rate.
Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek are leading the team in scoring. Pominville has been the team’s top offensive producer (see below), while Vanek has chipped in 21 goals and 44 points for Buffalo. But after those two players, the next highest goal total is 11 (Derek Roy) with only four players in double digits in goals.
The Sabres haven’t received the goaltending they weren’t expecting from silver medal Olympian Ryan Miller. Miller is 16-17-4 this year with a 2.82 goals-against average and .906 save percentage – the worst statistical season of his career. His play has resulted into split duties with backup Jhonas Enroth (8-10-3, 2.68, .917).
SABRES: JASON POMINVILLE
Jason Pominville leads the Sabres in every offensive category: goals (22), assists (32) and points (54). He has five goals and two assists in seven games this month, while hitting the 20-goal mark for the fifth straight season.
PENGUINS: JORDAN STAAL
Staal is two goals away from recording his fourth 20-goal season. His 18 goals through 38 games is the best scoring pace of his six-year career. Since returning from a knee injury, Staal has been playing his best hockey. Not only does he have three goals and five points in four games, but has been a defensive force against opposing team's top lines.
James Neal’s goal Saturday was his 56th point of the season, establishing a career high (30G-26A). Neal surpassed his previous best of 55 points (27G-18A), which came in 2009-10 when he was a member of the Dallas Stars.
With his goal, Neal became the first Pittsburgh winger to hit the 30-goal plateau since Alexei Kovalev had 32 goals in 2001-02. Neal is on pace to score 42 goals, which would make him the first Pittsburgh winger to crack that barrier since Kovalev (44 goals) and Jaromir Jagr (52 goals) in 2000-01.
Neal has collected at least one point in 12 of his last 16 games for a total of 20 points (9G-11A).
The Pens are 6-2-1 in their last 9 road games.
Pittsburgh is 5-2 in day games.
The Pens are 5-5-1 in the second game of back-to-back games this season.
Pittsburgh received a pair of shorthanded goals yesterday on the same penalty kill from Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke – the first time they’ve scored two shorthanded goals in the same game (and also on the same penalty) since Cooke and Craig Adams on Oct. 27, 2010 at Tampa Bay. In fact, Cooke’s goal was the Penguins’ first 3-on-5 shorthanded marker since Mario Lemieux on Feb. 13, 1988 at Los Angeles (Elias Sports Bureau).
The Penguins now have eight shorthanded goals this season, third-most in the NHL behind New Jersey (13) and Carolina (9). Pittsburgh has scored three shorthanded goals in its last five games and four over its previous 12 contests. During their last 14 games overall dating back to Jan. 17 vs. Carolina, the Penguins have killed off 42-of-45 opposition power plays (93.3%).
The Penguins removed Arron Asham from injured reserve on Friday afternoon. The veteran forward returned to the lineup Saturday in Philadelphia. Asham was a plus-1 in nearly 10 minutes of ice time.
Tyler Kennedy has a high-ankle sprain and is approximately 4-6 weeks for recovery. Kennedy sustained the injury late in the third period of Pittsburgh's game against New Jersey on Feb. 5.
C Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (31)
F Tyler Kennedy, high ankle sprain (5)
C Jochen Hecht, concussion (9)
F Cody McCormick, upper-body (4)
Author: Sam Kasan