PITTSBURGH --Greetings from Level 7 atop the sensational Consol Energy Center, which is going to push the Bell Centre in Montreal for the title of my favorite NHL arena. I used to love old Mellon Arena next door but that was simply a character thing. The place was deficient in virtually every area. Now the Penguins have a palace. You can have a look at my seat with the shot at the left (click for bigger image).
Be sure to check my earlier post about this afternoon's tour of the building that I took. And that post has a link to a Flickr stream for a barrage of pictures I took. The press box even has massive projection screens a few feet in front of us to watch replays. A negative: This long rectangular hole in the desk for your plugs. It's an invitation to be dropping things to the floor all night. We'll make due.
6:30 p.m.: Jhonas Enroth takes the ice as Ryan Miller's backup with Patrick Lalime a scratch. There's something new. All seven defensemen are on the ice, so no idea on the scratch yet. I would put Weber back in and scratch Morrisonn. BUT the Sabres are on a winning streak. Lindy Ruff usually keeps things the same. Chris Kunitz is on the ice for Pittsburgh. He's been out 12 games and was listed as a game-time decision.
6:45 p.m.: Perhaps the Enroth decision is a concession to Ryan Miller's struggles against the Penguins. Since the start of the 2007-08 season, Miller is just 2-7-2 against Pittsburgh with a 3.57 goals-against average and .874 save percentage. You could make the case Enroth's best game as a Sabre was the 1-0 loss to the Penguins in November at HSBC Arena, and not any of his four wins. Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, is 9-3-2 against the Sabres, 2.67 and .909. This year, he's 3-0, 1.67 with a .958 save percentage (91/95)
7 p.m.: Shaone Morrisonn scratched and Mike Weber back in. Good call by Lindy.
8:56 p.m.: The puck is dropped.
16:12 left: Sabres have the only two shots but they're not getting much pressure in the Pens' zone.
15:02 left: Miller stops Neal on Pens' first shot. Routine save but Neal has easily been Pittsburgh's most dangerous player tonight.
14:36 left: Mancari stopped from in front but Gaustad goes for goaltender interference. Got the stick up on Fleury's mask. Call was actually high sticking.
12:33 left: Sabres again getting the job done on the PK. Pens are 0 for 6 tonight. But just as the penalty ends, Butler gets another one. Crosschecking in front.
10:00 left: Sabres kill another one. 0 for 7. Pens could sure use Crosby or Malkin out there but keep in mind their power play is oddly ordinary much of the time even with those guys on the ice.
7:30 left: MIller stops Matt Cooke on a partial breakaway. Shots are 9-4 for Pittsburgh in the period.
6:54 left: Pens go up 3-1 as Mark Letestu tips home a Michalek shot from the point after a clear from Miller is intercepted.
In the end: Sabres lose 3-1. Shots are 31-30 for Pittsburgh. Not much happening down the stretch. On to Boston.
8:01 p.m: The puck is dropped.
19:00 left: I love this place. Press box is huge. Cooler filled with all kinds of pop. But the soft pretzels are a misnomer. They're like rocks. Oh well.
18:35 left: I gripe about the pretzels and they put one in the net? Off the faceoff, Sabres lose Engelland and he cuts down the wal to Miller's left and feeds it in front to James Neal, who tips home his first with the Pens after the deal with Dallas. Game tied, 1-1. (Replay showed it actually went in off Leopold's skate).
15:18 left: Zbynek Michalek burns Miller with a rising shot from the right point. Over his left shoulder as he was down on his knees. Miller never moved, never saw it. Pens lead, 2-1. Michalek's FIRST of the season in 59 games. Yeesh.
14:06 left: Bad to worse. McCormick for tripping.
12:30 left: Connolly has been terrific on the PK tonight, both on the 5-on-3 in the first period and this one.
9:47 left: Shots are 5-5 in the period but it sure seems like the Pens have had a decided advantage in play. Kunitz goes for goaltender interference.
7:53 left: Pominville robbed on the doorstep.
5:40 left: Scrum in front of the Pittsburgh bench leaves Buffalo short-handed. Mancari pulled Ben Lovejoy out of the pile and starting punching (Lovejoy had just crushed Ennis a few seconds earlier). They both go. Gaustad got roughing but the player Gaustad was with at the Pens' bench got nothing. Bizarre.
3:30 left: Miller robs Kunitz on two whacks from the edge of the crease to get the Sabres out of the penalty unscathed. Shots are 8-7 for Pittsburgh in the period.
2:13 left: Too many men on Pittsburgh. And kudos to James Patrick and Ruff for working the officials hard to get the call. The Sabres had a 4-on-2 break and a couple Pens jumped off the bench and got into the play.
End-2nd: Pens hold their 2-1 lead. Shots 22-20 for Buffalo. No shots for either side the last three minutes.
Sabres starters: Ennis-Connolly-Stafford-Butler-Myers. Goal: Miller
Penguins starters: Talbot-Rupp-Adams-Michalek-Martin. Goal: Fleury.
7:09 p.m.: The puck is dropped.
18:15 left: Miller a great glove save on Tyler Kennedy. Mancari had a great chance toe the Sabres 30 seconds earlier alone in front but the shot just went wide.
17:34 left: Fleury robs Boyes from in front off a neat Adam feed.
17:13 left: And now Rob Niedermayer is on a goal streak. Incredible. Gets a loose puck at the blue line, cuts around Paul Martin and stuffs it home. Where has that been all year? The guy has, however, been much, much better the last 10 games. Sabres lead, 1-0.
16:11 left: The lines look like this -- Ennis-Connolly-Stafford, Gerbe-Gaustad-Mancari, Adam-Boyes-Pominville, McCormick-Niedermayer-Parrish. Defense pairs are Butler-Myers, Sekera-Montador and Leopold-Weber.
13:33 left: Miller with great saves back to back on Matt Cooke and Dustin Jeffrey.
12:43 left: Derek Engelland oes for high sticking. Good work down low by Gerbe and Gaustad.
11:13 left: Too many men on the ice for Buffalo. Sekera jumps on too early for Mancari, who had shattered his stick and was sprinting back to the bench.
10:37 left: Montador for boarding James Neal. Sabres two men down for 1:24.
8:48 left: Great work by Buffalo. Myers blocked three shots on the 5-on-3 and Miller made two saves on Kris Letang. Weber made a blcok on the 5-on-4 that turned into an Ennis breakaway but Fleury made the save. No damage done.
6:00 left: Pens trying to get more physical. Big hit by Cooke on Connolly. But Sabres are still skating well. Fleury sharp as usual. Shots are 13-8 for Buffalo.
5:00 left: Adam goes for elbowing.
1:07 left: Miller has been a rock. Penalty killers solid. Shots are 15-12 for Buffalo. Terrific period from both teams, especially the goalies.
End-1st: 1-0 Buffalo. Shots remain 15-12.