Reunion: This is the first trip back to Buffalo for Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary, both of whom were traded by the Sabres to the Penguins at the deadline Feb. 24.
Rodrigues has zero points with six shots on goal while averaging 10:27 of ice time in four games with the Penguins, and Sheary has one goal with one assist in 15:37 of ice time – almost three more minutes than he was playing in Buffalo.
Rodrigues has played center and wing in Pittsburgh's bottom six, while Sheary has skated on the top line with Sidney Crosby.
Rodrigues, a pending restricted free agent, requested a trade from the Sabres on Dec. 31 after he was a healthy scratch against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had five goals with four assists in 38 games during his final season in Buffalo. Sheary, meanwhile, is a pending unrestricted free agent and had nine goals with 10 assists in 55 games before the trade.
Lineup: The Sabres will stick with the same lineup they used during a 3-1 loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday night. Defenseman Colin Miller and winger Michael Frolik are the healthy scratches. The forward lines also will be the same after coach Ralph Krueger made changes in the third period of the loss to the Jets.
"As an example, with Lawrence Pilut, to see him with the lessons that he’s learned and to confirm his style and the way he needs to play here with us," Krueger said when asked why he chose to use the same lineup. "It’s also seeing Brandon Montour on the right side versus the left and being able to evaluate that. Once again, we like the four lines. The compete has been very high in the games. We haven’t had the results, but we like the way the four lines have been operating and we hope to see a confirmation of that tonight."
Sabres' lines during the morning skate:
Frolik an extra. Defense rotating.
— Lance Lysowski (@LLysowski) March 5, 2020
Goalie change: Krueger is turning to goalie Jonas Johansson, who allowed four goals on 30 shots in a 5-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. Johansson has an .899 save percentage in five games, including four starts, since being recalled from Rochester.
This could be Johansson's final game with the Sabres this season, as Linus Ullmark is expected to be available to backup Carter Hutton on Saturday in Philadelphia.
"It’s definitely a good test for JJ, to see that evolution," Krueger said. "We like the way he’s been joining our group. When you see the maturing process of a player coming for the first time in the National Hockey League, there’s always awe the first day, the first game, the first minutes. He looks a lot more comfortable the last few days being in our environment, being in the group, feeling a part of the team and we’d like to see the confirmation in the net tonight. It’s been a good story on him thus far, and we want to get a good look at him today."
It's a surprising development because Hutton is 5-1 with a .910 save percentage in his career against Pittsburgh. The Penguins, meanwhile, will start Matt Murray, who has an .899 save percentage in 35 games this season. Murray is 3-1-1 with an .897 save percentage in six career games against Buffalo.
Pittsburgh lineup: Pittsburgh did not hold a morning skate Thursday, but coach Mike Sullivan revealed that winger Brandon Tanev (illness) and center Nick Bjugstad (lower body) will be game-time decisions.
Here is how the Penguins lined up during practice Wednesday:
With Tanev, Angello and Johnson missing, here are the lines and D pairs:
Zucker – Crosby – Sheary
Marleau – Malkin – Rust
Bjugstad - McCann – Hornqvist
Lafferty - Blueger – Rodrigues
Dumoulin – Letang
Pettersson – Marino
Riikola, Schultz, Ruhwedel rotating
— Mike DeFabo (@MikeDeFabo) March 4, 2020
Home cooking: The Sabres' 42 points at home are the 11th most in the NHL and their penalty kill ranks 16th in the league. Comparatively, Buffalo has the fourth-worst road record and worst penalty kill. Eight of its final 16 games are in KeyBank Center, though six of the seven opponents currently occupy a playoff spot: Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston, Carolina, the New York Rangers and Philadelphia.
Playing spoiler: Though the Sabres are now 12 points out of a playoff spot, they have an opportunity to continue Pittsburgh's slide in the Metropolitan Division standings. The Penguins are four points behind the first-place Washington Capitals and three back of the second-place Philadelphia Flyers.
Pittsburgh lost six consecutive games before it defeated the Ottawa Senators, 7-3, on Tuesday night. The Penguins have scored seven or more goals a league-best seven times this season, though they had only eight goals during their six-game winless streak.
Buffalo is 4-1 against Pittsburgh since the beginning of last season, including 2-0 this season. With a win tonight, the Sabres would have three straight victories over the Penguins for the first time since they won five straight from Oct. 10, 2005, to Nov. 17, 2006.
Matchup success: A number of Sabres have a history of success against the Penguins. Jack Eichel has nine points in his last nine games against Pittsburgh, and Sam Reinhart has 10 points in his last 10. Additionally, Marcus Johansson has four points in his last four games against the Penguins.
Not-so-special teams: The Sabres' power play is amid a 0-for-10 slump over the past five games, while the penalty kill has allowed at least one goal in two of the past four games. The Penguins are in a 2-for-23 slump on the man advantage.
Story topics: Buffalo Sabres