The Buffalo Sabres are desperate for points. For them, there may no worse team in the NHL to be playing tonight in KeyBank Center than the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Sabres are 2-12-2 in their last 16 games against the Penguins, although they posted a 5-4 overtime win in November over the Pens in the midst of their 10-game winning streak. But they have gone just 1-8 in their last nine home games against them and haven't beaten them in regulation anywhere since April 23, 2013.
Another month has flipped off the calendar and the Sabres continue to suffer. They went 6-4-2 in October and 11-3-1 in November. They've been consistently bad since, going 4-6-3 in December, 4-6-0 in January and 4-7-2 in February.
They have a tightly packed March with 16 games. Faceoff for the first one is shortly after 7 p.m. on MSG and WGR Radio.
Here are five things to know about tonight's game:
1. Where they stand: The Sabres fell another rung in the standings late Thursday night when the Florida Panthers got a point in a 6-5 shootout loss in Vegas. The Sabres are now eight points out of the final playoff spot with three teams to pass. The Penguins, meanwhile, fell out of a wild-card as well with Columbus' overtime win over Philadelphia. Pittsburgh is tied with Carolina at 74 points, but behind on tiebreakers.
"I'm sure there's no panic in their game. They're just worried about this game tonight and getting two points out of it," said Sabres winger Conor Sheary, who won Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017. "We're looking at it as they're one of the teams standing in front of us, in our way as well. We need those two points."
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan confirmed Sheary's thinking after his team's morning skate.
"It's just the reality of how close the race is right now," Sullivan said. "You have a good night or a good week and you're in the playoffs. If you don't, you're not. So we're just going to have make sure we control what we can.
"The way to do that is just stay in the moment. We have to stay focused. We can't get overwhelmed by all the distractions and the noise that's going on around us. That for your guys to talk about and write about. We're just going to focus on the game."
2. Lineup notes: The goalie matchup tonight is Linus Ullmark (13-8-4, 3.03/.909) vs. Matt Murray (19-10-2, 2.94/.912). Carter Hutton — who is 3-0, 1.36/.956 with two shutouts in five career games against the Penguins — is healthy enough to back up for the Sabres after leaving practice early yesterday with a lower-body problem. Marco Scandella (lower body) and Vladimir Sobotka (upper body) both remain out and day to day. Matt Hunwick will remain in the lineup.
The Penguins will be without their top two defensemen for the weekend, both tonight and Saturday in Montreal. Brian Dumoulin (concussion) and Kris Letang (upper body) were both injured in the Stadium Series loss Saturday in Philadelphia. Burly veteran Erik Gudbranson, acquired at the trade deadline from Vancouver, will make his Penguins debut tonight.
3. The Crosby Chronicles: Penguins captain Sidney Crosby continues to put up huge numbers with 27 goals, 50 assists, 77 points and a plus-19 rating in 60 games. He is tied for ninth in the NHL in scoring with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos. In his last nine games, Crosby is averaging nearly two points per game at 4-12-16. In 37 career games against the Sabres, he has 57 points (19-38-57) and a plus-22 rating. Crosby's 12th season of 20 goals or more tied Mario Lemieux for the most in team history.
What's No. 87's take on the playoff race?
"You look at the standings and how tight the teams are, what's separating second in your division to out of the playoffs isn't much (five points)," he said today. "You can't really dwell on that. You find a way to get points every night and find a way to get yourselves in there."
4. Skinner not scoring: Sabres winger Jeff Skinner is in a season-long goal drought of six games and has slipped into a four-way tie for fourth in the NHL goal race at 36. He's now behind Alex Ovechkin (44), Patrick Kane (40) and Leon Draisaitl (39). Skinner has 19 shots on goal in the six games and has notched four assists.
"You want to contribute and you want to contribute to a win," Skinner said today. "It sort of is what it is. You have to fight through it."
5. By the numbers: The Penguins are sixth in the NHL on the power play (24.3 percent) while the Sabres are fifth on the penalty kill (83.0), allowing just two power-play goals in the last nine games (13-15). The Sabres are third in home penalty killing (85.5) while Pittsburgh is second in road power plays at an eye-popping 31.2. ... Jake Guentzel leads the Penguins in goals (29), while Evgeni Malkin (20-44) and Phil Kessel (21-43) are second on the club to Crosby with 64 points. ... The Penguins are 16-10-6 on the road this year but are in playoff peril because they've been unusually poor at home (17-12-2). ... Pittsburgh veteran Patric Hörnqvist, who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal at Nashville in 2017, is playing in his 700th career game tonight. That's the most in NHL history for a player taken with the last pick in the draft. Hörnqvist was taken by the Predators with the final choice of the seventh round in 2005.