Don’t look now, but the Pens are 6-4.
The way the Penguins have been winning – and how they’ve been losing – is far from what we envisioned for this season.
But sometimes the best teams in the league are those resilient, scrappy groups that aren’t flashy but find ways to win. Some of the most successful teams of the past few seasons have had to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs and then end up winning the Stanley Cup.
Could that be what the Penguins are this season?
This game followed a similar formula, although the top two lines looked like they were clicking.
In other news, the Sabres coming to town meant a few familiar faces returning to the Consol Energy Center. Among them: Dan Bylsma. Bylsma brought a lot to the Penguins franchise and though his time had gotten stale in Pittsburgh, I think he has a successful career ahead of him.
Tyler Ennis was a healthy scratch and Evander Kane missed the game with an injury. Even without those players, this team is worlds ahead of where it was last year. Jack Eichel is going to be a superstar.
One last thing: those throwback alternate jerseys are just the best.
It didn’t take long for the Penguins to get on the board. Less than a minute into the first, the puck had been in the Sabres’ zone for the whole time.
Crosby hopped on the ice, took a pass and shot high on Johnson, who had to shrug the puck away. Dupuis, crashing the net, jammed the rebound under Johnson.
Classic Duper celebration after that goal. Great to see him score one.
Just a couple minutes later, the Penguins were threatening to score as Olli Maatta kept the puck in the Sabres’ zone. Cullen has looked very good thus far, and he’s been working well with Bennett. Perhaps the lack of top-line scoring has been balanced out by vastly improved depth in the bottom six.
Sid has looked energized playing with Dupuis and Hornqvist. HCMJ may have saved his job with that simple change in line combinations.
Hornqvist picked up his first of the season, firing one from the slot past Johnson’s glove. The top line was looking how it should. Two points for Crosby in the first 10 minutes of the game.
After the second goal, the tables started to tilt in Buffalo’s direction. Rasmus Ristolainen took a long shot from the blue line and Jamie McGinn redirected it past Zatkoff to get the Sabres on the board.
Ristolainen set up the tying goal as well, taking the puck behind the Pens’ net with Scuderi out of position. His pass found Nicolas Deslauriers in front of the net, who put a wobbly shot past Zatkoff.
Scuderi was on the ice for both of the goals. Not much more can be said about the flaws in Scuderi’s game. Not taking anything away from his contributions to this team throughout the years, but he’s dead weight right now.
Hornqvist almost scored a second goal, taking the puck up the right wing, passing it to himself through Weber’s legs, and taking a strong backhand shot. Moments later, Crosby shot one just left of the cage.
Sometime during the period, Byslma caught a puck and tossed it over the glass to a couple kids. Some (adult) buffoon reached out, caught the puck and crammed it in his pocket. The crowd said boo, Errey became irate, and the Penguins’ Twitter account started fielding complaints about it. Apparently the guy who took the puck disappeared. Assuming the kid got the puck in the end.
The top line continued its dominance. Crosby was skating hard. The second line was working to match that intensity. Many, many good chances for both lines throughout the first quarter of the second.
Lovejoy went off for hooking to kill the early momentum. Cody Franson hit the post as Zatkoff sprawled.
Lovejoy flew out of the box at the end of the penalty and joined a rush that resulted from Eichel shooting wide off the end boards. Lovejoy took the puck, dropped a pass to Malkin, then received a pass and dragged the puck around Johnson. Johnson stopped the first shot but slid out of position as Lovejoy tucked the rebound inside the left post. Great, heads-up play by Lovejoy to make up for the penalty.
Hornqvist dodged a potentially serious injury and simultaneously drew a penalty. He was skating hard for the end boards to the right of Johnson and Weber pulled Hornqvist’s left skate out from under him. He hit the wall feet first, evoking memories of a few Penguins injuries of the past few years.
However, Hornqvist was back for the ensuing powerplay and manufactured a goal just a few seconds of game time later. After Hornqvist took a shot up close, the rebound came to Malkin’s skate. Malkin kicked the puck to his stick and crammed it in the open net.
The last two minutes of the second period were absolutely flawless for the Penguins. It all started with Crosby getting crushed into the boards by Ristolainen and coming back with a crosscheck. Sid’s line proceeded to cycle the puck and generate chance after chance with help from Letang and Cole. Perron and Malkin jumped on and the puck stayed in the Sabres’ zone. The crowd was getting into it, cheering as each pass connected. Though the sequence didn’t result in a goal, it put the Sabres on their heels, fired up the crowd, and gave everyone a taste of what this team can do.
Zemgus Girgensons, who was strong all game, made a power move past Dumoulin and almost put one in, but Zatkoff caught the puck with his right toe.
At the other end, Bonino nearly wrapped one into the Sabres’ net.
Midway through the third, it looked like the Sabres had scored as Zatkoff sprawled in the blue paint. Somehow the puck, slowed down by snow in the crease, slid to a stop and stayed on the red line. No goal.
O’Reilly managed to score on the Sabres’ 48th shot of the night with the extra attacker.
Letang then took a delay of game penalty after clearing the puck over the glass. Things were interesting.
Bonino won the first faceoff on the penalty kill. Seconds later, he cleared it toward the Sabres’ empty net. Seconds after that, Porter cleared one that hit the post.
Zatkoff made several big saves to ice the game, robbing Ristolainen with the glove. 4-3 Penguins.