Penguins vs. Sabres
PPG Paints Arena – Pittsburgh, PA
7:00PM Eastern – AT&TSN | SN1
Has it come to this? Sadly, it has.
It’s not often that you look at games in the first quarter of the season as “must-win” games, but after getting worked in Ottawa in what by most accounts was a “must win” scenario for a floundering Penguins squad, this particular game at home takes on an even more magnified importance of “must win” even at this juncture in the year.
Make no mistake. The wheels are off. It hasn’t really been like this for this organization in a long, long time. And this might be the first time they’re in this kind of spot where expectations have far exceeded the on-ice product. And perhaps we (Read: MGMT) have made the bed in which the Penguins are currently wallowing, bringing in players like a 42-year old Matt Cullen and the albatross that is Jack Johnson.
The Penguins have always been an organization whose commitment to charity and goodwill have been prominent, but their charitable giving this year seems to extend a bit too far into the actual roster construction when you’re financing players like Johnson and OldCullen well beyond the point where they can truly impact the game in a positive manner for your team.
It certainly doesn’t help that Matt Murray is battling some demons right now, and that Sidney Crosby is battling injury. Out of sorts and at a crisis of confidence is where the Penguins find themselves, and likely by their own hand.
As fate would have it, the Penguins push forward hoping to fall on their sword and get back to the basics, and this inflection point rears its head of them having to actually down the team that bears some swordlike imagery in its name.
The aforementioned Matt Cullen fell off his dinosaur and will be out long-term with a lower body injury. The Penguins’ vaunted centre depth of old is being tested at the deepest levels of the organization, and the timing couldn’t possibly be worse.
The Penguins enter tonight’s matchup with 17 points in 18 games played. They are tied for next-to-last in the league, leading only the lowly Los Angeles Kings and their 13 points through 19 games played.
The Penguins 2-7-1 record in their last 10 games is worst in the league.
That being said, though, a well placed water balloon would hit just about every team in the Eastern Conference pack right now – only 4 points separate 9th from 15th in the East.
Pearson – Malkin – Kessel
Guentzel – Brassard – Hornqvist
Simon – Grant – Sprong
Aston-Reese – Sheahan – Rust
Johnson – Letang
Dumoulin – Ruhwedel
Maatta – Oleksiak
The Sabres finally have Jack Eichel healthy through the first quarter of the season, and they’ve sprinted out to a nice little start (12-6-2) with Jeff Skinner also doing a lot of heavy lifting from a scoring perspective. Eichel paces the Sabres with 22 points (4G+18A), while Skinner leads the team in goals with 14 (+7A for 21 points). Those two represent two thirds of the top line, with Jason Pominville racking up 17 points of his own to round out their top unit.
The Sabres come into tonight’s matchup trailing only the Leafs and Lightning in the Atlantic Division, and
Former Penguin Conor Sheary has 10 points (6G+4A) in 20 games for Buffalo as well. First overall pick Rasmus Dahlin also has 10 points in 20 games.
The Sabres brought in Carter Hutton for his first NHL starting job, and he’s been solid, posting an 8-6-0 record across 15 games played, wielding a 2.51GAA with a .919SV%.
Skinner – Eichel – Pominville
Thompson – Sobotka – Reinhart
Sheary – Middlestadt – Okposo
Berglund – Larsson – Girgensons
McCabe – Ristolainen
Dahlin – Bogosian
Scandella – Nelson
Nothing to it but to do it.
Forge forward. Burn the Sabres.