PITTSBURGH (45-17-9) VS BUFFALO (30-31-12)
FIRST NIAGARA CENTER. BUFFALO, NY.
7:00 PM EST. ROOT SPORTS
The Penguins are in Buffalo tonight to wrap up their season series against the Dan Bylsma Country Club experience part two. The Sabres were making a late season push for a day or two but then everyone realized Byslma didn’t inherit a great team from another coach so they will once again fail to meet expectations, shocking. A .500 season isn’t the worst thing for Buffalo, as they will finish a hair better than they did last year. Meanwhile in Pittsburgh the memories of Bylsma’s tenure are receding thanks to Mike Sullivan and his efforts to make Pittsburgh hockey fun again. With a win tonight the Penguins will clinch their franchise-tying 11th straight trip to the Stanley cup playoffs. I’m not interested in splitting hairs over who is the better coach between Bylsma and Sullivan, because it’s Sullivan. After winning the cup in 2008-09 the following season Bylsma coached the Pens to a 47-28-7 record, in Sullivan’s title defense season he has the Pens at 45-17-9 with over 200 man-games lost; it truly is a shame that Mike Sullivan isn’t being considered for the Jack Adams award by the community, especially after the creation of one of the greatest lines ever.
Games like this are tough to get a feel for, on one hand you know the Penguins wouldn’t mind a night off from this hectic month but they also would love some form of home-ice advantage in the playoffs. On the other hand you know that even though Buffalo is failing to grow they will still be amped up to play the champs one more time. Fortunately for the Penguins a good start to this game will result in Buffalo falling back on their tendency to suck, and Bylsma will as usual have no answer.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
Rodrigues and Fasching sound like players that belong on a Bylsma fourth line. Also, did you know Gionta is still in the league? Holy shit.
As Jesse Marshall beautifully demonstrated in his article (linked above), the first line of Guentzel-Crosby-Sheary is the Top Line. The first line will be a tough matchup for any of the three attempted pairings of defenders the Sabres have thrown together, and that alone tilts the ice in the Penguins favor. We have gotten limited news on the injury front, Bryan Rust finally practiced in a contact-allowed jersey yesterday and stated that he “has a particular game that he is aiming for” to make his return. Sullivan also stated that Maatta and Letang are making the “proper progress” whatever that may be for them.
It’s going to be an interesting call for Sullivan on goalie choice tonight but one thing for sure is he doesn’t care about your Twitter opinion. Current Pens fans on Twitter regarding the goalies:
WHO TO WATCH:
Still the only thing that comes to mind when you mention Pens and Sabres. Still remember listening to the call on the radio because it was a school night and after bedtime. Still remember watching the highlights the next morning on ESPN, back when they did that sort of thing. Great goal, great player.
FOR PITTSBURGH: TOM SESTITO
LOL, just kidding. I don’t want to get too carried away with this SSG line right now because I hate falling in love with a line in case something happens down the road, but for now I’m all in. What this line is doing is absolutely insane, and there is really no reason they will stop tonight. The beauty of this first line is, when healthy, the Penguins bring out Rust-Malkin-Hornqvist second and then once again have HBK as a third line in the playoffs. Regardless of recent defensive acquisitions in the division, those are three extremely good lines to shut down in 7 games. Oh, and if you do then you still have a Kunitz-Cullen-Kuhnhackl 4th line. Unreal job by Rutherford and Sullivan building this squad.
The Penguins are in a tight battle in the division right now, and though some don’t care about winning the President’s Trophy the focus is more on home ice advantage, as the Penguins are an incredible 29-4-3 at home. One advantage the Penguins have is that Washington and Columbus play each other twice in their remaining 11 games, and the Pens play Columbus once more as well. In order to pull it off they have to keep beating the Buffalo’s and New Jersey’s, and with a depleted morale in the Buffalo locker room an early lead could result in an easy night for the Pens.