PITTSBURGH – Right now, superstar Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions, look nothing like their normal selves.
Crosby, 30, has scored zero goals in the last 11 games. If the slick center doesn’t score tonight against the Buffalo Sabres, a team he has dominated over the years, it would equal a career-long goal drought.
Incredibly, the most prolific scorer of his generation hasn’t created much, either, mustering only three assists during his goalless stretch.
Overall, Crosby has five goals, 13 points and a wretched minus-14 rating in 17 games this season, arguably the worst start of his illustrious career.
Of course, the Sabres might be in town just in time for Crosby, who has compiled a whopping 12 goals and 42 points in his last 26 games against them dating back to Dec. 29, 2007. He has a point in 24 of the contests of that torrid run.
The Penguins, meanwhile, are 9-7-3 and 1-2-2 in their last five games. However, they’re 5-0-1 at home. They possess a weak offense (50 goals) and a porous defense (68 allowed). Their minus-18 goal differential trails only the Sabres (minus-20) and hapless Arizona (minus-30).
“Everybody goes through it, right, even the top teams in the league?” Sabres coach Phil Housley said this afternoon inside PPG Paints Arena. “They’ve played a lot of hockey the last three years. Sometimes that can catch up on as far as their schedule goes early, they had a lot of back-to-backs, a lot of games in a short period of time.”
Of course, the Penguins, like Crosby, own the Sabres. They have a 12-game point streak against the Sabres, who last beat the Penguins in a 2-1 shootout Nov. 17, 2016 in Buffalo.
“You play these guys and their high-end skill and talent level, you’ve got to try to take their time and space away,” Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges said. “You’ve got to be in their face early and make them make tough plays. They’re going to make plays. They’re going to go out there and do what they do, they’re the best in the game. But you’ve got to try and make life as miserable as possible.”
In lineup news, Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella, who missed Monday’s practice with the flu, skated this morning and will play tonight. Sabres goalie Robin Lehner will start, his 13th appearance this season.
Based on the morning skate, defenseman Victor Antipin and winger Seth Griffith will be Buffalo’s healthy scratches again.
Housley has been preaching a shooting mentality, and he illustrated it with a stat Monday: the Sabres are 5-2-3 when they have 30 or more shots on goal and 0-7-0 when they have fewer than 30.
In other news, the Sabres sent winger Justin Bailey, 22, back to the Rochester Americans on Monday after the youngster recovered from his lower-body injury.
“He’s been out for a while, get his timing back, get his confidence back,” Housley said. “I thought he started out well the first couple games. I thought his play dipped a bit after that, that urgency he had on the forecheck using his speed and even in providing a physical element.”
Bailey had two goals and three points in seven NHL games. The former second-round pick started the season in the AHL.