Buffalo Sabres’ head coach Dan Bylsma no doubt will have Thursday night’s tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins circled on his calendar. Bylsma began coaching the Penguins toward the end of the 2008-09 season and his tenure ended at the close of the 2013-14 season.
Bylsma had success as the Penguins’ bench boss. He won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh during his first season with the club in 2008-09. The Penguins also qualified for the playoffs during each season that he served as head coach. During his time in Pittsburgh, Bylsma gained valuable experience working with elite NHL talent coaching Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin among others.
Buffalo hired Bylsma this summer. Since then, the new Sabres’ head coach has began reshaping the team and building toward a return to the playoffs. In his new role in Buffalo, Bylsma is playing an integral role in developing the Sabres’ young talent which includes forwards Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Here is a preview of Thursday night’s matchup as Bylsma prepares to return to Pittsburgh as a visiting head coach.
Penguins Improving After Slow Start
The Penguins have bounced back in the win column in recent games after a very slow start. Pittsburgh opened the season by losing their opening three games to the Dallas Stars, Arizona Coyotes, and Montreal Canadiens. Since then, the Penguins have won four of five heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals. Through eight games played, Evgeni Malkin leads the team with three goals and seven points.
Pittsburgh has won games but the club hasn’t done so by scoring a ton of goals. Star forward Sidney Crosby has had a slow start. While he finished the 2014-15 season third in overall scoring with 84 points, Crosby failed to register a single point until the Penguins’ sixth game against the Florida Panthers this season. With only three points on the season in eight games played, Crosby needs to rediscover his scoring touch to help keep his club on the winning track.
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An area where Pittsburgh has struggled so far this season is on the power play. According to NHL.com, Pittsburgh has the 29th best power play in the NHL with a 7.1 percent efficiency rate through their opening eight games. With high-end offensive talent such as Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Evgeni Malkin on the roster, the Penguins’ struggles with the man advantage will likely turn around sooner rather than later.
Sabres Showing Promising Signs
While the Pittsburgh Penguins are on a winning trajectory, the Buffalo Sabres have struggled to accrue much in the win column. Through nine games, the Sabres have complied a 3-6-0 record which is the 23rd best record in the NHL. While the Sabres went 1-2-0 during their recent home stand, they will enter Thursday night’s game with some momentum. The Sabres arrive in Pittsburgh on the heels of an impressive road victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in which Zemgus Girgensons notched the game winning goal in overtime.
The Sabres have generated quality scoring chances in many of their games but they have struggled to light the lamp at times this season. Buffalo has scored 19 goals in their opening nine games which is the 22nd highest total in the NHL. The Sabres have scored three or more goals in three out of nine games played so far this season. However, they have scored three or more goals in each of their last two games so Buffalo could be on the verge of scoring goals on a more consistent basis.
Interestingly, the Sabres have the edge in total goals scored over the Penguins who lit the lamp just 13 times this season. Special teams will play an important role when Buffalo faces off against Pittsburgh. While the Penguins currently have the 29th ranked power play, Buffalo has the NHL’s worst penalty kill at 69.6 percent. Both clubs are looking to improve these respective positions so success on special teams could be the difference between victory and defeat in Thursday night’s contest.
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Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW