The Pittsburgh Penguins, with strong playoff positioning and perhaps at least one regular-season title within their sights, will host a team trying to climb out of a pack of Eastern Conference also-rans Saturday in the Buffalo Sabres.
Both teams will be trying to rebound from losses.
Metropolitan Division co-leader Pittsburgh had a three-game winning streak snapped Thursday with a 4-0 loss at Toronto, a shutout that had the Penguins more concerned about defense than offense.
“We’ve got to learn from it,” Penguins forward Bryan Rust said. “Teams … with good offenses, we’re going to see a lot of them down the stretch. We’ve got to know how to play the right way in order to win these games.”
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said the problem is not a one-time issue but something that has been creeping into his team’s game.
The answer, Sullivan said, is “commitment. … We have to go back to work. The first thing we have to do is recognize it, and then you have to pay attention to details.”
Against Toronto, the Penguins got center Evgeni Malkin back after he missed the front half of the home-and-home series against the Maple Leafs because of illness. However, winger Dominik Kahun, who was playing on Malkin’s line in just his second game back from a concussion, left Thursday because of an apparent left leg injury after blocking a shot. He did not practice Friday, and Sullivan said he’d be a game-time decision.
The Sabres have been off since Tuesday, when they were stung by a 7-4 loss at Ottawa. They had won three straight and four of five going into that game but were sunk by allowing four goals in a span of 3:29 of the first period to the Senators.
“You can’t take shifts off, you can’t take periods off, especially in the position we’re at,” said defenseman Brandon Montour, who scored twice Tuesday.
With a month and a half left in the regular season, Buffalo is feeling pressure to pile up enough points to vie for a playoff spot.
“We have to win games,” forward Kyle Okposo said. “That’s it. That’s the bottom line. We have to trust the way we play is going to produce results.”
Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger said he drove home that idea during the team’s brief break between games.
“Let’s be honest, we know the margin for error — that’s actually something we were speaking about — is very, very small,” Krueger said. “We need to recover quickly from our loss in Ottawa.”
With 22 games left, the Sabres need more games like those they got during their recent three-game winning streak.
“There’s not much time or margin for mistakes right now. We all know that,” defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said. “I kind of take it as a new challenge, you know? We need to put some wins together and see where we end up.”
Buffalo made a move Friday, placing defenseman Zach Bogosian on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract.
As with any team that is hanging around the depths of the standings leading up to the NHL’s trade deadline, which is Monday, names and possible moves tend to swirl.
The Sabres are trying to block that out.
“It’s just (a) small picture,” said forward Conor Sheary, who is up for unrestricted free agency in the summer and whose name has come up as a potential “rental” player who could be traded.
“You can’t worry about the outside noise or about what people are saying about me, about this team, any other players in here. I just worry about doing what I can to help this team win.”
–Field Level Media