Sabres host Penguins in battle of East heavyweights
PENGUINS (24-10-1) at SABRES (21-10-2)
Pittsburgh 7-2-1; Buffalo 7-3-0
This is the first of four meetings between the teams this season. They split four meetings last season, with the final three games all ending 4-3. On Nov. 28, 2008, Paul Gaustad scored twice to lead the Sabres. On Dec. 8, Thomas Vanek's third-period goal capped a Sabres' rally from a 3-1 deficit. And on Dec. 22, Sidney Crosby
scored in overtime for the Penguins.
The Penguins have the No. 4-ranked offense at 3.11 goals per game. The Sabres have the No. 3-ranked defense at 2.18 goals-against per game. Which side budges first?
Penguins -- Jordan Staal
sometimes gets lost with all the attention given to Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
, but his contributions are impossible to overlook. Staal's 2 goals against Philadelphia gave him 10 for the season, and puts him on pace for 23 this season. He is a main penalty killer, has a pair of shorthanded goals and is a plus-6. He's also jumped into consideration for a spot on Canada's Olympic team. He was invited to the summer evaluation camp, and has done nothing to drop off the radar of Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman.
"It'd be something special to be part of that team," Staal told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I'm just happy to be (under consideration to be) a part of it. There are so many good players up there, it's tough for any player to make it. There are going to be a lot of great players left out."
It will be worth watching just how much energy the Sabres have in this one. Seven players suffered food poisoning following a meal at an Ottawa steakhouse Tuesday night. Tyler Myers, Henrik Tallinder, Steve Montador and Jochen Hecht were still under the weather and didn't skate Thursday.
It really hurt the Sabres on Wednesday in their 2-0 loss to the Senators, but Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff wasn't looking for excuses. When asked how the sickness affected his team, Ruff told the Buffalo News, "You hate throwing excuses around, but the guys that weren't sick I didn't like either."
Who's Hot --
Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar has a four-game point streak, during which he has a goal and 5 points. Sabres leading scorer Derek Roy has 4 goals and 10 points in his last 11 games.
Injury Report --
Paul Gaustad came off the injured list for the Sabres to have one shot and a plus-1 rating in Friday's win against Toronto. He had missed 10 games with a knee injury. The Sabres are expected to be without forward Patrick Kaleta, who suffered a concussion Wednesday against Ottawa. Nathan Gerbe (groin) is questionable.
The Penguins enter the game completely healthy.
Stat Pack --
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin
had just 1 goal, but led the team in scoring against the Sabres last season with 11 points.
Puck Drop --
Playing for the second straight night, expect to see Patrick Lalime in net for the Sabres. Ruff wouldn't confirm that, but he did say Lalime would play this weekend and Ryan Miller played Friday against Toronto. Lalime has a 3.51 goals-against average, but is coming off a strong 39-save effort in a win against Chicago on Dec. 11.
"It was important for his teammates and really everyone to see him play well and to get behind him," Ruff told the Buffalo News. "It's really important when he gets back in there for the team to play well in front of him … and for the players to know if they do fall down and make a mistake, he's right there to make a big save for him."
Said Lalime about playing the Stanley Cup champs: "They have a great team. We all know it. They play very well and it will be a great challenge."