Sabres-Penguins Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 17, 2011
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The Pittsburgh Penguins have felt Sidney Crosby's absence of late, but they're starting to feel the effects of some other injuries as well. The Buffalo Sabres would like to capitalize on that again. Evgeni Malkin will try to continue his scoring surge and help the Penguins rebound from another loss without their captain when they host the Sabres on Saturday night. Pittsburgh (17-11-4) has dropped four of five and is 1-3-0 without Crosby, who is sidelined indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms. Those lingering issues have limited Crosby to eight games since January, but that didn't seem to matter against Buffalo (16-12-3) in 2010-11. The Penguins swept the four-game season series, winning the final two meetings without the superstar center. The Sabres, however, have already taken advantage of Crosby's absence this season, beating the Penguins 3-2 at Consol Energy Center on Oct. 15. Malkin, the team leader with 31 points, is doing his part to soften the blow of Crosby's continued absence. The center has three goals and four assists in his last four games, but his two points - including a power-play goal - weren't enough in Friday's 6-4 loss at Ottawa. "Typically, we're a lot better defensively than that,'' forward Craig Adams said. The Penguins were also without Jordan Staal (lower-body injury) in Ottawa and continue to play without defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Kris Letang, both of whom are recovering from concussions. Defenseman Paul Martin also left Friday's game with a lower-body injury in the third and didn't return. Malkin didn't face the Sabres in October, as his surgically repaired right knee was sore. He does have 20 points in 18 career meetings against them, though he hasn't scored a goal in his last nine. James Neal has three goals and one assists in his past three meetings with Buffalo, finding the net Oct. 15. The left wing enters this meeting on a four-game scoring streak, totaling three goals and two assists. While the Penguins are trying to shake out of a rough stretch, the Sabres feel they're gaining confidence after beating Toronto 5-4 on Friday. They're 6-7-3 since their last winning streak, a four-game run Nov. 4-11. "We need to get our swagger back, especially when we have the lead," left wing Thomas Vanek said. "Sometimes that's all it takes. There's no miracle to it. Everyone here is a good player, so when we get the lead we have to go for the next one and bury a team. We didn't quite do that, but I think it was a step in the right direction." Vanek may continue providing a spark after tying his career high of four points against the Maple Leafs, matching his production from the previous nine games. He leads the Sabres with 16 goals while his 33 points are one shy of Jason Pominville's team-high. Vanek, though, has just two assists in his last five meetings with Pittsburgh. Pominville hasn't been much better in the past six against the Penguins, getting one goal and one assist with a minus-5 rating. Ryan Miller figures to be in net after making 29 saves Friday, improving to 3-0-2 with a 2.95 goals-against average since missing eight games with a concussion. He has a 1.77 GAA while winning four of six on the road. However, he's 0-4-1 with a 4.16 GAA in his last six starts versus Pittsburgh and coach Lindy Ruff used backup Jhonas Enroth in the October meeting. Enroth made 29 saves to help beat the Penguins, but is 1-5-1 with a 3.10 GAA in his last seven starts overall. Marc-Andre Fleury, who replaced an ineffective Brent Johnson on Friday, is 4-1-0 with a 1.61 GAA in his last five starts versus Buffalo.
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