7:30 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Last Penguins Game:
March 30, 2013 - Pittsburgh 2, NY Islanders 0 [Recap]
A few days off does the body good (or is that an apple? maybe milk?) but unfortunately that isn't quite enough time for the Penguins but they are still in a good place in the midst of a 15 game winning streak and now they are going to go against a Buffalo team that has been pretty awful this season and are 4-3-3 in their last ten contests.
The Penguins are going to be without the service of Sidney Crosby for most, if not all, of the month after having jaw surgery after getting hit in the mouth with a tipped puck. This is obviously not an ideal situation but where the Penguins sit in the standings and the ability of them to stack wins this is a pretty good time for it to happen if it was inevitably going to happen. I mean I wouldn't want this to happen in the playoffs or in two weeks when he might miss the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Penguins now sit at second in the entire NHL and are only points behind the Hawks and hold a decent lead over both the Habs and Bruins. Obviously it would be great if Crosby wasn't hurt at all but if he was going to miss three or four weeks I guess this would be the best case scenario.
The Penguins catch a break as they will face the Sabres without Tomas Vanek and they also will be without Jordan Leopold who they traded to St. Louis a few days ago. Jason Pominville is still on the team despite the front office asking him to give the teams he won't accept a trade to (he has a NTC or NMC). Not like the Penguins neccessarily need teams to be giving away their best players to have a chance to win but if they want to hold onto the top seed in the East it never hurts to play against a team with their top guns either no longer on the team or on the sidelines.
Before the Penguins hit the ice they hold a magic number of only seven to clinch a playoff spot and a magic number of eight to clinch the Atlantic Division. That isn't as much a magic number as it is a general guideline of when it will happen as it would basically take the Penguins not winning a game the rest of the regular season to even have a chance of not having each of the previous things I talked about happening. I guess winning 15 games in a row during a 48 game season will do that for you.
Something that Dan Bylsma is doing is that he is trying to keep things as much the same as possible on the offensive front with the absence of Crosby. Basically the only changes we will be seeing is Tyler Kennedy moving from the fourth line up to center Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis while Dustin Jeffrey will be playing the fourth line center role. Kennedy has some centering experience and while he has been wilding disappointing I think this would be better than trying to throw Brandon Sutter up on the second line or moving Jarome Iginla up with Sutter to play with Dupuis and sending Kunitz down with Malkin to play with he and Neal. The fact the Crosby is going to come back is huge. I keep the second line of Iginla, Malkin, and Neal together so they can get some chemistry and keep the third line of Morrow, Sutter, and Matt Cooke together for the month so they can gel together. Move as little as possible and while this might diminish the first line I think this is absolutely the right move.
Tomas Vokoun is going to be in net for the Pens tonight for his third straight start. He is riding a streak of consecutive shutouts as he hasn't had a goal scored on him since a March 22 start against the New York Islanders when he only gave up a pair of goals. He has been money ever since that game and has stopped every shot in the three games since then. This is pretty much why I was so excited when he was signed by Ray Shero in the off-season.
Pittsburgh (28-8-0) (via Penguins website)
Chris Kunitz - Tyler Kennedy - Pascal Dupuis
Jarome Iginla - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Brenden Morrow - Brandon Sutter - Matt Cooke
Tanner Glass - Dustin Jeffrey - Craig Adams
Brooks Orpik - Mark Eaton
Douglas Murray - Matt Niskanen
Deryk Engelland - Simon Despres
Buffalo (13-17-6) (via Penguins website)
Steve Ott - Cody Hodgson - Jason Pominville
Drew Stafford - Tyler Ennis - Ville Leino
Nathan Gerbe - Kevin Porter - Marcus Foligno
John Scott - Jochen Hecht - Patrick Kaleta
Christian Ehrhoff - Tyler Myers
Robyn Regehr - Andrej Sekera
Mark Pysyk - Mike Weber
The Season Series (Pittsburgh Leads 1-0-0)
February 17, 2013 - Pittsburgh 4, Buffalo 3