The surging Pittsburgh Penguins (10-5, 20 points) will visit the Buffalo Sabres (6-8-1, 13 points) on Sunday afternoon in Western New York in the first of three regular-season meetings between the two Eastern Conference foes.
While the Pens have won two straight games coming into the weekend, the Sabres have dropped two of their last three overall and five of eight games so far this February. The teams are clearly trending in opposite directions, but Lindy Ruff's crew can change that this weekend.
Here we'll get you set with everything you need to know for Sunday's regular-season showdown.
Where: First Niagara Center, Buffalo, N.Y.
When: Sunday, Feb. 17 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Live Streaming: NHL GameCenter
Key Injuries (according to USA Today)
Penguins: No significant injuries.
Sabres: D Andrej Sekera (doubtful, leg) and C Ville Leino (out, hip)
Penguins Player to Watch: James Neal
Pittsburgh left winger James Neal is currently the NHL's leading goal scorer, with 11 through 15 games (tied with Buffalo's Thomas Vanek through Friday). Three of his goals have come in the team's last two wins over Ottawa and Winnipeg, which means he's riding momentum into Sunday's battle with Buffalo.
Neal's 22.9 shooting percentage is perhaps his most impressive mark this season, as his career percentage is right around 12.9.
Be sure to look out for Neal during Pittsburgh power-play situations on Sunday afternoon, as seven of his 11 goals came when the Pens had a man advantage.
Sabres Player to Watch: Thomas Vanek
Thomas Vanek, Buffalo's veteran left winger, is leading the NHL in points (23) and goals (11) so far this season despite having failed to score a single point in each of Buffalo's last three games. He has 11 goals and 12 assists in 14 appearances (through Friday).
Vanek has had seven shots on goal over the course of the Sabres' last three games but has been unable to cash in. Still, it's only a matter of time until he does, and that's why fans should be keeping an eye out for No. 26 this weekend against Pittsburgh.
He clearly isn't leading the league in points and goals by chance. The Sabres are five goals better than their opponents when Vanek is on the ice this year.
Key Matchup: Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Ryan Miller
Assuming Dan Bylsma stays with the hot hand in the crease on Sunday, Marc-Andre Fleury should get his third straight start for the Penguins. Across the ice in goal for Buffalo will be the talented Ryan Miller, who's made five straight appearances for the Sabres.
Miller (.916) and Fleury (.915) rank 14th and 15th respectively in save percentage this season, but Fleury (2.27) boasts a better goals-against average than Miller (2.82).
But to be fair, Miller has faced over 170 more shots than Fleury this season and saved nearly 160 more shots than the Pens' netminder. Individually, the edge goes to Miller, but considering the talent playing in front of him, Fleury will be at an advantage in Buffalo on Sunday.
Buffalo is a decent home team at 3-3-1, but Pittsburgh is on a warpath on the road this season, boasting a 7-2 record away from home.
With in that mind, and given that the Pens rank sixth in the league in goals per game and Buffalo ranks 26th in goals against, you have to love Pittsburgh's chances of coming away with two points this weekend. Every puck James Neal gets a stick on seems to go in right now, and Buffalo's top weapon, Thomas Vanek, has gone cold as of late.
The stats and momentum favor the Pens on Sunday, and I like them to win their third straight.
Penguins 4, Sabres 3
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