BUFFALO, NY - FEBRUARY 17: Alexander Sulzer #52 of the Buffalo Sabres and Tanner Glass #10 of the Pittsburgh Penguins reach for the puck on February 17, 2013 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Get your game notes: Sabres at Penguins

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This evening on NBCSN, it’s the Pittsburgh Penguins hosting the Buffalo Sabres starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

— Pittsburgh, the Eastern Conference leader with 74 points, enters tonight’s game 14-1-0 in their last 15 home games. The Pens’ only home loss in that stretch came in a 5-1 defeat to Florida on Jan. 20. The Penguins have lost 5 times in their last 21 games (16-4-1), with all 5 losses to teams outside of playoff position (at DAL, vs. FLA, at EDM (OT), at NJ, at OTT). Buffalo has a league-low 35 points.

— The Penguins, 21-4-0 at CONSOL Energy Center, match Anaheim for the NHL’s most home wins. Buffalo’s 5 road wins (5-14-3) are the fewest in the league. The Pens have won 6 of the last 9 matchups in Pittsburgh over the Sabres and are 10-4-0 in the last 14 overall meetings.

— Pittsburgh is coming off a 3-0 loss at Dallas on Sat., the third time they’ve been shut out this season. Buffalo won at Columbus, 5-2, on Sat. but is 1-3-2 overall in their last 6 games and have not won consecutive road games played in back-to-back games all season.

— Sidney Crosby has registered at least 1 point in 15 consecutive games against the Sabres, the longest active streak for any player against an NHL team. He has 9 G – 15 A during his streak vs. Buffalo.

Player | Opponent | Streak

Sidney Crosby, PIT | BUF | 15

Steven Stamkos, TB | WPG/ATL |  13

Patrick Kane, CHI | EDM | 12

Joe Thornton, SJ | COL | 12

— Crosby (league-leading 72 pts, team-leading 27 goals) & Chris Kunitz (25 goals) have a combined 52 goals, one short of matching the highest scoring tandem in the NHL (ANA – Perry/Getzlaf – 53). Both scored in the Pens previous meeting vs. BUF this season (4-1 PIT home win on Oct. 5). Crosby leads all NHL players with 37 home points (12G-25A) and has 13G-20A in 23 career games vs. Buffalo. Kunitz has 7G-5A in 19 career games vs. the Sabres and 3G-4A in last 7 games against them.

— Matt Niskanen (+29 – 1st in NHL) & Kunitz (+25, t-2nd) lead PIT in +/- rating. The Pens have 11 players at +2 or above this season; Buffalo has 4 players at +1 as their highest rated players.

— Tonight, Evgeni Malkin will play in his 500th NHL game. He becomes just the 15th Penguin in team history to reach that milestone. Crosby (522 GP) was the 14th earlier this season. Malkin has points in 6 of his last 7 games vs. the Sabres (4G-7A) & at least 1 point in 11 of his last 12 home games (7G-13A).

— Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury leads the league in wins & home wins (28, 18). Buffalo’s Ryan Miller is 7-11-3 all-time against the Penguins, 1 of only 3 teams he has a losing record against, with a .888 save percentage (his lowest against any NHL team).

— The Penguins lead the NHL in both special teams categories (24.4% on PP, 87.3% on PK). The Sabres are 29th on the PP (13.9%) & 12th on PK (82.9%). Pittsburgh has been perfect on the penalty kill against the Sabres in eight straight home games (18-for-18 during span).

— Pittsburgh ranks 4th in the league in goals per game (3.15), while Buffalo averages the fewest (1.82).

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Vlasic on the unenviable task of matching up against Crosby

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 and Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada look on during the Men's Ice Hockey Semifinal Playoff against the United States on Day 14 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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Plenty of people believe that the San Jose Sharks’ defense is superior to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ personnel, but it’s one thing to be better on paper. When you’re on the ice, against a speedy and talented team, can you really stop the Penguins?

All signs point to sorely underrated Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic drawing the difficult assignment of trying to slow down Sidney Crosby.

Vlasic, a former Team Canada teammate of Crosby (as you can see from this post’s main image), realizes that he’ll have his hands full. In fact, he seems to believe that this will be an even tougher challenge than trying to solve St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

The fantastic all-around defender isn’t exactly expecting to reinvent the wheel in his strategy against Crosby.

“It will be the same as in the first three series,” Vlasic said, via The Hockey News. “We’re playing against the top players on every time – Sid, (Evgeni) Malkin and those types of guys for Pittsburgh. Me and (Justin Braun) will just keep doing what we did, taking away time and space and hopefully it works out.”

The two players have had glowing things to say about each other for some time, but don’t be surprised if this high-level competition turns those happy thoughts into hard feelings.

It stands as one of the matchups to watch in what could be a fresh and fascinating Stanley Cup Final.

Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.

One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”

It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.

Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?

The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.

“In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.