Thoughts: Game 13 – Crosby sets up everyone in Pens 6-1 win over Sabres

By: Meesh Shanmugam (Sorry for the delay!)

Pens 6  Sabres 1

Record: 10-2-1

Goals
Letang (2) from Crosby, Hornqvist
Hornqvist (8) (PP) from Letang, Crosby
Letang (3) from Martin, Crosby
Hornqvist (9) (PP) from Kunitz, Crosby
Bortuzzo (1) from Crosby, Kunitz
Malkin (6) from Comeau, Letang

Click here to read the goal assessments

Penalties
Malkin (hooking) – Good (hooks Girgensons going across the front of the net by himself so he can’t shoot the puck past Fleury, who had gone down for a poke check already)
Hornqvist (roughing) – Inconsequential (gets into a shoving match with Strachan after a whistle and they both receive minors)
Downie (fighting) – Inconsequential (gets into a fight with Weber behind the play and they both receive majors)
Despres (tripping) – Stupid (gets his left skate behind Larsson’s right skate to take him down to the ice for a tripping call)
Comeau (slashing) – Overly aggressive (slashes Larsson’s stick out of his hands after losing the puck to him)

Gm 13 Goals

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 13 Forwards

Sidney Crosby – We all know that Crosby is likely the best player in hockey right now. What amazes me even more about him is that after every “bad” game he’s played this season, he proceeds to light up the scoreboard and make you question if he actually had a bad game or was just bored with being awesome. Crosby finished this game with five assists, a drawn penalty, possibly the most respect he’s ever gotten from an opponent, and he may have left with the jock strap of Josh Gorges too. I won’t rehash all of the assists here (check the goal assessments), but the Sabres gave Crosby a lot of space in general and were often embarrassed when they opted not to. Of course, it’s just Buffalo, but it’s never bad to see Crosby dominating a bad opponent.

Patric Hornqvist – Hornqvist was one of the beneficiaries of the Crosby effect and he finished with 2 goals and an assist (but, four goals contributed-to). He continues to dominate the area around the net, especially on the powerplay, and did a great job of pursuing the puck in all areas. His first powerplay goal was a deflection in the slot on a Kris Letang shot. His second was a one-timer from the inside corner of the right faceoff circle on a Kunitz pass. Meanwhile, he had three forced turnovers on the offensive half of the ice and added a broken-up play on the crease in the defensive zone. Hornqvist brought his own effect to the game too by driving to the net, drawing Sabres defenders to him, and being the key reason that Bortuzzo had unlimited time and space to score his goal. It has been difficult to find any complaints about Hornqvist early in the season.

Happiness is a hug after a powerplay goal. (Harry Scull Jr./AP Photo)

Happiness is a hug after a powerplay goal. (Harry Scull Jr./AP Photo)

C. Kunitz – Kunitz had one of his better games of the season (yeah, yeah, Buffalo) with two assists included in four goals contributed-to. The most encouraging part of his game to me was that he was a positive with puck movement. He recorded two takeaways, a forced turnover, and a broken-up play to go against just one giveaway and one lost puck. That is an area where Kunitz has struggled early on. As for his goal contributions, they came in a variety of ways. He worked the goal line well to set up Hornqvist for a one-timer goal. He also did a good job along the boards in both the offensive zone and the defensive zone to get the puck to Crosby, who clearly could handle the rest against Buffalo. The Kunitz-Crosby-Hornqvist trio was far too much for the Sabres to handle.

Blake Comeau – Comeau had his subpar moments (at fault for the only goal, though admittedly that is a harsh decision, and a bad penalty), but it’s impossible to ignore the energy he brings to the ice and his versatility in all situations. Comeau only had one point, an assist which came on a nice play where he set up Malkin in the slot off of a Letang rebound after forcing the turnover to Letang to start the play. Aside from that though, he looked more comfortable on Malkin’s wing than Dupuis and utilized his speed very well in forcing the Sabres into bad passes and misplays. I marked him down for a takeaway, a pass interception, and two forced turnovers thanks to his tenacious nature. He doesn’t have the scoring ability of Hornqvist, but they both are cut from the same cloth when it comes to puck pursuit and that is a huge upgrade for the Penguins from last season.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 13 Defense

Kris Letang – Letang was a bit careless with the puck early in the game (four giveaways), but it didn’t matter once he decided to shoot the puck instead (team-leading five shots). Letang has looked much more interested in using his shot in recent games and it paid off against the Sabres with two goals. He also added two assists with his slapshots, one of which was deflected by Hornqvist and the other of which produced a rebound for Comeau to set up Malkin with. Defensively, he settled down after the early giveaways to finish with three pass interceptions, and takeaway, a forced turnover, and a broken-up play (all in the defensive zone). He probably can’t jump up as much against other teams as he did against Buffalo, but hey, it was Buffalo.

Letang is either celebrating a goal or the trailer for Mockingjay; it's hard to tell. (Bill Wippert/Getty Images)

Letang is either celebrating a goal or the trailer for Mockingjay; it’s hard to tell. (Bill Wippert/Getty Images)

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury didn’t face a big shot total (20 saves), but he did make a few dazzling saves at times to make sure the Sabres were never in the game. His most notable save was on Moulson from the slot and Fleury slid desperation-style to the top of the crease and just got a piece of a one-timer attempt from in-close. He didn’t face his first shot until roughly six minutes were left in the period, but he managed to keep his head in the game without flopping around or misplaying the puck. One thing I have noticed recently, and perhaps this is my imagination, is that Fleury seems much more efficient with his movements to stop pucks behind the net. He doesn’t take a wide, loopy path to them – he stays near the post, quickly moves the puck, and stays close to the post going back in front. If that is a new development, it’s a nice addition to see. I even credited Fleury for helping out on a goal as he stopped a puck behind the net after a faceoff loss and passed it to Kunitz along the boards to get the play in motion for Bortuzzo’s goal. Yes, Fleury can handle the puck the right way at times.

Robert Bortuzzo – Though most people (myself included) were excited to see Bortuzzo come back for his physical presence (which was in play with eight hits), you have to appreciate his ability to jump into the play at the right times as well. Bortuzzo joined five or six rushes seamlessly to boost the team’s offensive puck control and he was only caught up ice once, which is a ratio that is unexpectedly good for a player like Bortuzzo. His ability to read the play allowed him to score a goal as he joined the rush late to give the Penguins a 4-on-3 situation in the Sabres zone, then faked a shot to put everyone out of position, moved himself into a better shooting position, and wristed the puck past Enroth. I fear Bortuzzo may get caught up ice a bit more often if he skates up too much against better opponents, but like with everyone else…it was Buffalo.

Misc. Thoughts

Injury Updates – Steve Downie was held out for precautionary reasons after his fight with Mike Weber, but he’s expected to be fine. Olli Maatta joined the team for off-ice workouts on Monday and may start skating again later this week. Beau Bennett was dominant by all accounts in WBS this weekend and is likely looking at a recall very soon, if not within hours of me writing this. For how potent this offense and powerplay are right now, just imagine what Bennett’s addition could do for it if he can play anything like he did in training camp (and stay healthy).

It’s Just Buffalo – When I was deciding on my takeaways from this game, I came to the sad realization that it’s impossible to really take away too much. Buffalo is just seriously bad. They don’t work cohesively as a team, show no interest in puck support, mishandle the puck more often than not, and can’t connect on a disturbing amount of simple passes. The Penguins might actually deserve to be in a different league than the Sabres right now. The only thing I wanted to point out was the strong penalty kill again and how cohesively they are moving as a unit. All of the PKers worked against Buffalo in fluid four-man groups that closed gaps quickly, pressured the puck carrier with support on both sides, and kept sticks in dangerous passing lanes. The PK will give up a goal sooner than later, but it’s clear they know what they are doing as a group now.

Everyone agrees with you, Tyler, your team is hard to watch. (Harry Scull Jr./AP Photo)

Everyone agrees with you, Tyler, your team is hard to watch. (Harry Scull Jr./AP Photo)

Next Game: 11/11 @ NY Rangers, 7pm

Thanks for reading!!