In a season going nowhere, the Buffalo Sabres can actually complete a season sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins with a win tonight in KeyBank Center. Faceoff is 7:05 p.m. on MSG and WGR Radio.
The Sabres have not swept Pittsburgh since going 4-0 in 2005-06 – Sidney Crosby's rookie year. They have won both previous meetings in overtime, with a Jack Eichel goal producing a 5-4 win Nov. 19 in PPG Paints Arena and a Conor Sheary tally giving the Sabres a 4-3 win here on March 1.
Of course, this one will be tougher with Eichel serving the second of his two-game suspension for his hit on Colorado's Carl Soderberg last Saturday in Denver.
"The first time we played them we were in a different spot where there was a big belief every time we got down that we were going to have this comeback," coach Phil Housley said today, referring to a game in the middle of Buffalo's 10-game winning streak.
"Last time, guys just kept fighting. I really liked the way we played in the third period. We were aggressive and throwing pucks to the net. ... It was a great game for our guys because they found that they can still do that."
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1. Streaks and such: The Sabres have dropped five straight (0-4-1) for the second time this season. The Penguins have won two in a row and are 5-1 since the loss here in their last visit. Pittsburgh is 10-3-2 in its last 15 games – and Buffalo is 3-10-2 in its last 15, which is why the teams are no longer battling each other for playoff position like they were in early February. The Penguins are third in the Metro, four points behind Washington for the division lead but still only four points inside the playoff cut line.
2. Firing blanks: The Sabres have endured back-to-back shutouts for the first time this season. If they don't score tonight, they will have gone three straight games without a goal for just the second time in franchise history. The first time? Last season, in December 2017. And the third straight shutout was a home game against the Penguins. Buffalo finally broke the streak the next night in Pittsburgh on a Jason Pominville goal with less than nine minutes left.
By the numbers, the Sabres have not scored a goal in 137 minutes, 40 seconds. Their last one was Kyle Okposo's goal that gave them a 4-3 lead last Thursday in their shootout loss in Chicago. It came at 7:40 of the third period.
3. Lineup news: Carter Hutton (16-19-5, 2.82/.912) will be in goal for the Sabres tonight against Pittsburgh backup Casey DeSmith (14-11-5, 2.86/.914), who will be making his first start since Feb. 21. Matt Murray has started the last nine games for the Pens, going 6-1-2, 2.30/.930. Hutton is 3-0, 1.36/.956 in five career games against Pittsburgh, with two shutouts.
Casey Nelson returns to the lineup on defense for the Sabres with Zach Bogosian out (upper body). Zemgus Girgensons, who has just three goals on the season and none in his last 33 games, will be a healthy scratch for the second straight contest.
4. Malkin Mania: Sidney Crosby continues to lead the Penguins in assists (57) and points (90) and has scored in five straight games against Buffalo, but Evgeni Malkin stole some headlines this week with his 1,000th career point in Tuesday's win over Washington.
Malkin has 21 goals and 49 assists this season and has 12 points in his last eight games against Buffalo. He's just the fifth Russian-born player to reach 1,000 (one of the others was former Sabre Alexander Mogilny), and the fourth Penguin, joining Crosby, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
"He's a big body who moves so well," said Sheary, who won Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017. "A lot of times with a big guy like that, you don't see the skill he has. It's pretty amazing what he can do when he's 1-on-1. He's so hard to defend. He's one of the most underrated superstars in this league because he plays alongside Sid.
"It's hard to get the puck from him. He's so good at protecting it and finding his linemates. And then when he's 1-on-1, he can beat you. It makes him so dangerous out there."
5. By the numbers: It's 12 games and counting without a goal for Sabres winger Jeff Skinner, who has been stuck on 36 since Feb. 15. ... In 38 career games against the Sabres, Crosby has an incredible 59 points (20-39). He has at least one point in 20 of his 21 career games in Buffalo (13-21-34), and the Penguins are 14-4-3 here in his career. ... Malkin's career vs the Sabres: 15-34-49 in 38 games. ... Jake Guentzel leads the Penguins this year with 35 goals. ... Kris Letang (upper body) will miss his ninth straight game for Pittsburgh. ... The Penguins are 31-0-3 when leading after two periods this year – and two of those three defeats are the games against the Sabres. Buffalo is 7-23-2 when trailing after two. ... The Penguins are fourth on the power play (25.3 percent) while Buffalo is sixth on the penalty kill (82.4 percent). ... Watch out for the middle period: The Penguins lead the NHL with 93 second-period goals and are plus-16 in the frame. Buffalo is minus-19.