Penguins-Sabres Preview

The Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been working their way up the Eastern Conference standings since their worst losing streak in six years.

The Buffalo Sabres have fallen fast following their best run of the season.

Pittsburgh looks to take sole possession of second place in the Atlantic Division on Sunday when the host Sabres try to avoid a season high-tying fifth consecutive loss.

Since dropping six in a row from Dec. 29-Jan. 11 - the team's longest skid since a seven-game slide in Sidney Crosby's 2005-06 rookie season - the Penguins (33-20-5) have gone 12-3-1. They moved into a second-place divisional tie with Philadelphia on Saturday with a 6-4 road win over the Flyers.

Pittsburgh killed five of six penalties and scored twice while shorthanded, including Matt Cooke's score in the second period with the team down two men.

"Our penalty-killing was huge,'' said coach Dan Bylsma, whose club has surrendered one power-play goal in 23 chances in February. "To come out of special teams a plus-1 with a couple shorthanded goals was a big part.''

The play of Marc-Andre Fleury has also played a major part in the Penguins' month long run. He has won 11 of his last 14 starts after his 27-save effort against the Flyers helped him reach the 30-win plateau for the fourth consecutive season.

Fleury has turned aside 41 of 47 shots as the Penguins and Sabres (24-27-7) have split two games - both in Pittsburgh - this season. He made 16 saves in an 8-3 victory on Dec. 17 after Buffalo ended a six-game skid in this series with a 3-2 win on Oct. 15.

The Sabres will try to avoid their first four-game home losing streak since an 0-3-1 slide from Feb. 13-20, 2011.

Since a 5-0-1 surge from Jan. 24-Feb. 10 moved the club within eight points of the eighth spot in the East, Buffalo has gone winless to drop into a tie with Carolina with a conference-worst 55 points.

"Obviously, I'm very disappointed, embarrassed,'' coach Lindy Ruff said following Friday's 4-3 shootout loss to Montreal.

Ruff was disappointed with penalties taken by Thomas Vanek and Nathan Gerbe on Friday - sitting both for extended stretches - but Vanek will likely move up to the top line with Derek Roy and Jason Pominville on Sunday. Vanek has two goals and four points in his last 15 games.

"We've just got to do a better job of converting," Ruff said following Saturday's practice.

That could help goaltender Ryan Miller, who has a 2.35 goal-support average. The former Vezina Trophy winner is 0-4-1 with a 4.67 goals-against average in his last seven starts against the Penguins after yielding a season high-tying five goals on Dec. 17.

Jhonas Enroth stopped 29 Pittsburgh shots on Oct. 15.

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin recorded his seventh career hat trick and matched a personal best with five points the last time these teams met. It was the first time he faced Buffalo since a hit from Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers on Feb. 4, 2011, resulted in a torn knee ligament and ended Malkin's season.

Malkin scored his NHL-leading 70th point on Saturday by setting up James Neal's 30th goal of the season.

Jordan Staal scored and set up a goal in that contest, giving him six goals and eight points in nine games. However, he was also fined $2,500 by the league on Saturday afternoon for boarding Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn.

Pittsburgh is 7-2-0 in its last nine games in western New York.

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