Sidney Crosby raises his game another to level when the calendar reads November. The Buffalo Sabres know how dangerous he can be regardless of what month it is.
Crosby looks to continue his high-scoring ways and help the Pittsburgh Penguins extend some lengthy winning streaks over the Sabres when the teams face off on Saturday night in western New York.
The accomplishments by “Sid the Kid” are well-documented– two-time Hart Trophy winner as league MVP, two-time Art Ross Trophy winner as league scoring leader, and a two-time Stanley Cup winner among many others.
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Over the course of 11-plus NHL seasons, November has clearly been Crosby's time to shine even brighter. His power-play goal in Friday night's 3-2 overtime win against the New York Islanders was the 73rd of his career, far and away the most he's had in any month.
Crosby also assisted on Kris Letang's game-winner 1:24 into the extra session.
“When he's got time and space, he's going to hurt you,” Letang said of Crosby, whose career numbers against Buffalo are eye-popping.
In 31 games, Crosby has 14 goals and 35 assists, helping the Penguins to a 22-7-2 record. In 17 career games at KeyBank Arena, Crosby has nine goals and 19 assists leading them to a 12-4-1 mark.
Pittsburgh (11-4-2) has won nine straight from the Sabres by a combined 37-13 score, thanks in large part to 15 assists from Crosby, and six in a row in Buffalo by a combined 26-11 count with Crosby contributing 12 assists.
Crosby has 11 goals in 11 games after missing the first six with a concussion, and is one goal shy of 350 for his career. Despite the delayed start to his season, Crosby is tied for second in goals, one behind rookie Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets for the NHL lead.
After Matt Murray defeated the Islanders, Marc-Andre Fleury may get the chance to bounce back from some recent subpar play. In his last three appearances, including two starts, Fleury has surrendered 11 goals in just over 162 minutes for a 4.06 goals-against average.
But Fleury has hardly struggled versus the Sabres. In 26 career starts, Fleury is 19-5-2 with 2.18 goals-against average and four shutouts, and he's won seven straight starts in Buffalo, posting a 1.43 GAA and .950 save percentage with two shutouts.
Buffalo (5-8-4) has not made the playoffs since 2011 and any hopes of ending that streak appear to be a long shot. The Sabres are 1-4-2 at home, have an NHL-low 31 goals and are at the bottom of the Atlantic Division with 14 points.
Left winger Matt Moulson said Buffalo needs to refocus on the ice.
“We talked (Friday) about concentrating on playing the right way,” Moulson told the team's official website. “It seems like we're giving up a lot of odd-man rushes to some pretty skilled groups the last couple of games, so I think that's the focus. Playing the right way will lead to offensive chances and scoring chances.”
A three-time 30-goal scorer, Moulson has six goals in 17 games after totaling eight in 81 games with Buffalo last season. He also has two goals and an assist in a three-game point streak versus the Penguins.
Among the Sabres struggling to score consistently is right wing Kyle Okposo. Though he's second on the team behind Moulson with five goals and has a team-best 10 points, Okposo has failed to score in six straight games, and he has just one goal at home.
“We've got to make sure we're playing the right way and we can't press,” Okposo told the team's website.
While with the Islanders, Okposo had a career-best four goals in a win over Pittsburgh on Jan. 16, 2015. In five matchups since then, he's had a goal and two assists.
Buffalo center Ryan O'Reilly — the team's second-leading scorer with nine points (four goals, five assists) — is expected to miss his fourth straight game with an oblique injury.
However, one player who could help the Sabres' sputtering offense is left wing Evander Kane, who's been limited to six games this season after missing 11 with cracked ribs. Though Kane has just one assist so far, he's scored three goals and added six assists in his last five games against the Penguins.
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (no points, minus-4 in 12 games) has missed the last four games with a back injury and is not likely to suit up Saturday for Buffalo.
Right winger Patric Hornqvist (five goals, eight assists, 16 games) missed Friday's contest for Pittsburgh with a concussion suffered in Wednesday's 7-1 loss to the Washington Capitals. It's not immediately known if he will be cleared to face the Sabres.