PITTSBURGH – A month ago, the Buffalo Sabres awarded defenseman Justin Falk a one-year contract extension because the 28-year-old, a quiet offseason addition, provided some strong depth as the injuries ravaged the blue line.
Then the defense corps got healthy, leaving Falk the odd man out again for seven games.
But with defenseman Dmitry Kulikov out with an upper-body injury for this afternoon’s tilt against the Penguins, Falk will play his first game since Feb. 16.
“You just try to stay on top of things,” Falk said inside PPG Paints Arena. “I’ve been in this situation before, where I’ve been out an extended period of time.”
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said Kulikov, who was hurt in a collision in Saturday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Tampa Bay, didn’t make the trip. The Russian is day-to-day, he said.
The Sabres will start backup goalie Anders Nilsson against the potent Penguins, who are averaging 3.4 goals a game, a staggering number in this low-scoring era. With Robin Lehner getting most of the workload, the Swede has only started one of the last 12 games.
“All year long he’s been one of our hardest-working guys,” Bylsma said of Nilsson. “The situation he’s been in the last three weeks, where he hasn’t gotten a lot of work. Minus the break (two weeks ago), he’s stayed sharp, put in the effort.”
The Sabres have had trouble competing with the Penguins in recent seasons, going 1-8-1 in the last 10 meetings. They’ve lost five straight games in Pittsburgh.
Still, the Sabres won the last meeting Nov. 19, getting 32 saves from Nilsson in a 2-1 shootout triumph.
The Sabres haven’t beaten the haven’t beaten the Penguins two straight contests since winning here April 2 and 23, 2013.
Some other notes on the game:
– Sabres center Jack Eichel’s nine-game point streak (two goals, 10 assists) is the NHL’s longest active run. The Penguins, however, are the only team he hasn’t recorded a point against.
– Eichel’s streak is the longest since Tim Connolly had points in 16 straight games from Dec. 23, 2009 to Jan. 25, 2010.
– Nilsson is 2-2-1 with a .932 save percentage in his career against the Penguins.