Pittsburgh’s penalty kill has been vital as the team has picked up 11 points in its last six games, a resurgence it’ll look to continue on the road against the short-handed Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.
The Penguins (12-8-2) went 29 consecutive chances without a power-play goal from mid-October through early November, and even in winning three of four Nov. 12-17, they only capitalized once with the man advantage.
They’ve gotten going again in the past few games. Crosby assisted on a Chris Kunitz(notes) power-play goal in Friday’s 5-4 shootout win over Carolina, then had a goal and an assist with the man advantage in Monday’s 3-2 victory at Florida.
It’s been Pittsburgh’s penalty kill, however, that’s highlighted its recent surge. The Penguins killed off all five power plays Monday, extending their percentage in November to an NHL-best 94.9 (37 of 39).
“I think our team now has a better understanding of how we need to play to have success,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “Our penalty kill has been a big factor for us. Our power play scored goals in the last two, but the last three games we’ve gotten chances (that are) doing the job for us. There are a lot of things that our team is doing to put ourselves in a situation to have success.”
Sabres center Tim Connolly(notes) and goaltender Ryan Miller(notes) are out Wednesday with groin injuries. Miller missed a 2-1 home loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday, but the injury isn’t expected to sideline him much longer.
“I’m not quite there yet,” Miller said after practicing Tuesday. “I’m just trying to be cautious now, knowing that I’m not that far off.”
That means Buffalo (8-11-3) will start either former Penguin Patrick Lalime(notes) or Jhonas Enroth(notes), who’s likely to be summoned from AHL Portland. Lalime fell to 0-4-0 with a 3.03 goals-against average Saturday, when the eventual winning goal was a result of his own failed clearing attempt.
“I made a mistake and it cost us the game,” Lalime said. “I made the wrong play there, tried to draw the guy in and made the wrong pass. I think it was just a bad pass. It always seems when I make a mistake, we pay for it somehow. I just can’t make those.”
Lalime went 1-1-1 with a 1.48 GAA against Pittsburgh last season.
The Penguins are 7-3-0 in their last 10 against Buffalo with the help of a solid power play. They’ve converted 10 of 42 opportunities (23.8 percent), largely thanks to two goals and four assists from Evgeni Malkin(notes).
Malkin has three goals and 14 assists in that stretch against Buffalo, though he hasn’t scored a goal in the past seven meetings.
After shutting down NHL goal-scoring leader Steven Stamkos(notes) on Saturday, the Sabres’ task isn’t about to get easier against Crosby. The co-Rocket Richard winner last season along with Stamkos, Crosby has nine goals and 11 assists in his last nine games.