Penguins notebook: Starting goalie vs. Sabres unclear

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Coach Dan Bylsma hasn't announced who will be in goal tonight for the Penguins when they play the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center.

He even said Thursday that he "will consider" calling on Marc-Andre Fleury, who faced the New York Islanders Thursday at Nassau Coliseum, three times in less than four days, as the Penguins follow up the games against the Islanders and Sabres with one at home at 12:30 p.m. Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Still, the front-runner to start at the First Niagara Center appears to be veteran Brent Johnson, who missed 17 games with an undisclosed injury before backing up Fleury Thursday night.

Johnson, who has not played since Feb. 19 in Buffalo, took part in the game-day skate at Nassau Coliseum, then stayed on the ice for some additional work.

If the idea was to determine whether his sweat glands still function, he passed the test, because the perspiration was pouring off him when he returned to the locker room.

"I got a good [workout Wednesday] and a really good one [Thursday]," he said. "If I get a chance to play [in Buffalo], I'm going to take it.

"It's just a game where I have to step in there, if I do get a chance to play, and help the guys get a [victory. The Sabres] are playing really well, so I think it would be a really good challenge for myself."

Fleury, predictably, said he had no reservations about making all three starts "if they want me to play," but conceded that "it's a lot of games."

The Islanders game was Fleury's 64th appearance of the season. The preseason plan was to get him about 65 starts.

With Johnson back, the Penguins returned goalie Brad Thiessen to their minor league team in Wilkes-Barre.

Sabres surge

The Sabres, whose playoff prospects looked all but dead in mid-February, have charged back into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, and look like a team capable of sticking around the playoffs for a while.

The key to their resurgence, not surprisingly, has been goaltender Ryan Miller, who has rebounded from a poor start of his own and won 14 of his previous 18 starts.

That Miller got his game in sync did not surprise Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, who has played with him on several national squads, including the 2010 U.S. Olympic team.

"I know he was struggling a little bit in the beginning of the year, but obviously his skill level ... everyone sees that," Orpik said. "From playing with him, I know how committed he is and how hard he works.

"Everyone goes through slumps. It's just how you react to it [that matters]. Some guys, probably the slump continues and maybe multiples. In his case, it was only a matter of time until he got out of it."

Injury report

Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, who has missed the past four games because of an unspecified injury, is not scheduled to play tonight.

Neither is injured center Joe Vitale, who hasn't been in a game since March 17.

Both, however, were on the ice during and after a game-day skate and could be back for the Flyers game, according to Bylsma.

Defenseman Kris Letang, who got an undisclosed injury in the 5-2 victory Sunday against New Jersey, did not accompany his teammates on this two-game road trip and also is out until at least Sunday.

Christian Ehrhoff, who leads the Sabres in average ice time (23:03) and is their highest-scoring defenseman (32 points), is out indefinitely after his left knee was injured in a 5-1 victory Tuesday in Washington.

Return planned

Islanders defenseman Dylan Reese, an Upper St. Clair native, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and said Thursday he has not had conversations with management about a new contract.

He made it clear, though, that he would like to re-sign with New York.

"It's not something that we've talked about, but it's something that I hope," he said. "I want to be part of this organization.

"I'm happy with my development over the year, and the way the team has come together. It's a fun group to be a part of."

Reese, 27, is playing out a two-way contract that pays him $635,250 in the NHL, $60,000 in the minors.

He played for the Pittsburgh Hornets and the Pittsburgh Forge of the North American Hockey League before attending Harvard.



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