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Sabres vs. Penguins: Five Things to Know

The Sabres are 0-4-2 in their last six games overall and have six goals in that span. They're an NHL-worst 1-4-2 on the season at home with eight goals in the seven games. They've got six players on their injured list. They're last in the Atlantic Division, last in the Eastern Conference, 29th in the NHL's overall standing.

Other than that, everything is just fine. Nothing to see here.

Except for the fact they're playing the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night in KeyBank Center. (7 p.m, MSG, Radio 550). Yikes. Talk about some bad timing.

The Penguins did not skate today, coming off Friday's 3-2 overtime win in Brooklyn over the New York Islanders. They are just 2-2 in their last four games after a 6-0-1 burst. Here are five things to know about tonight's game:

1. It could be the battle of the backups in net -- The Sabres are giving Anders Nilsson his fifth start of the year while the Penguins might go with veteran Marc-Andre Fleury after Matt Murray played last night in Brooklyn. Nilsson is 1-1-2/.1.96/.942 while Fleury has some ugly numbers (6-3-2/3.32/9.03).

"It's the same game and still the same puck you have to stop so it's not really that too big of a difference," Nilsson said today, when asked about playing Pittsburgh. "Obviously they have some very skilled guys, some guys you have to be aware of when you're on the ice. I've been feeling pretty good so far since day one in camp. Good and confident. I know I can play. It's just a matter of going in and taking advantage of opportunity."

Fleury has given up 11 goals in his last three outings, posting a 4.05 GAA and .884 save percentage. But he has been dominant in his career against the Sabres, going 10-1 in his last 11 decisions and putting up huge lifetime numbers (19-5-2/2.19/9.20). Fleury has won seven straight against the Sabres with an 0.86 GAA and .963 save percentage.

2. The Sabres are juggling their lines: Johan Larsson is getting the call as the No. 1 center, in part to draw primo defensive assignments against either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. He'll be playing between still-goal less Evander Kane and Kyle Okposo. The Sabres have also recalled Cal O'Reilly and Cole Schneider from Rochester, leaving the trios looking like this:


Why Larsson? "Really more of a matchup situation against the opponent than a lot else," said coach Dan Bylsma. "We think he'll be able to do that for that line, be able to play against any of the top two lines with Crosby and Malkin. That was kind of the thought about it."

Be sure to read plenty from Cal O'Reilly in Amy Moritz's gameday post here. 

3. The Sabres are juggling their power play too: The Buffalo man-advantage unit has scored in three of the last four games and is ninth in the league at home at 22.7 percent but still needs some better work on the back end. So Bylsma has put Taylor Fedun on the No. 1 unit, replacing Jake McCabe and freeing Rasmus Ristolainen of the burden of always carrying the puck up ice.

"It moves Ristolainen into a one-time position, a shooting position pretty much solely," Bylsma said. "We want that to be the focus from Risto. Taylor is probably showing the most puck poise on top of the unit."

The forwards on the first unit are Moulson, Reinhart and Okposo with Ristolainen and Fedun on the points. The second unit is likely to have McCabe and Cody Franson on the points. Cal O'Reilly will get some looks along with Larsson, Kane and Gionta.

4. The Penguins have dominated the Sabres in recent years: Buffalo is 0-8-1 in its last nine against Pittsburgh, last beating the Pens on April 23, 2013 with a 4-2 win at PPG Paints Arena. The Penguins have won six straight here, with Buffalo's last win coming on Feb. 19, 2012.

Pittsburgh has won 15 straight games against Buffalo that Sidney Crosby has played in, dating to Feb. 1, 2010. Crosby has 30 points in those games (7-23). In 31 career games against the Sabres, Crosby has 49 points (14-35). Evgeni Malkin has 39 points in 31 games against Buffalo (13-26).

"It gives me a good appreciation for having been on the other side," said Bylsma, who coached the Penguins from 2009-2014. "There's really not an opportunity to fully match up when you're looking at a group like Crosby's line, a group like Malkin's line and then to think that Phil Kessel is on the third unit that will be over the boards. I don't know you can go into the game and say you can match up against one particular line and one situation."

5. Crosby is ridiculous. No. 87 missed the first six games with a slight concussion but has picked up where he left off in winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in June and the MVP of the World Cup in September. He has 11 goals, one shy of the NHL lead, and four assists in 11 games. He broke Mario Lemieux's franchise record for overtime assists last night with this sick setup to Kris Letang.

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