An all-around team effort from the Pittsburgh Penguins allowed the Pens to coast to a 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres and extend the win streak to four games
The Penguins resorted to shoddy defending against a poor opponent, Sidney Crosby made very little five-on-five impact in a rare subpar showing, yet the Pens scored five goals — coming from every line AND the power play — and continued to keep pace in the East division.
The Penguins are 7-3 in the last 10 games, but the Washington Capitals are 8-1-1 and the New York Islanders are 9-0-1. Man, tough crowd out there.
Kasperi Kapanen continues to be exactly what the Penguins needed this season. His style of play is dynamite, flying around the ice and creating chances for himself and his teammates. Evgeni Malkin in particular.
Whether it’s just overcoming a slow start and finally being conditioned, having that spark from Kapanen, or a little of both, Geno is finally playing like himself again.
Kapanen and Malkin fit together almost like Crosby and Jake Guentzel do. Kapanen is fast, tenacious and a natural finisher, but more importantly, he always seems to find himself exactly where he needs to be. Thursday’s contest was another example of their chemistry continuing to flourish.
Despite a power play goal against the Sabres from the top line, it’s time to shake things up and move Kapanen up with the big guns.
I know it’s the Sabres, but the third line continues to produce this season, especially of late, and the fourth line actually produced a goal!
Tristan Jarry wasn’t a stone wall in net, but he did enough to give the Penguins the upper hand with another save percentage north of .910. Jarry also has three points this season, one more than Sabres $10 million man Jeff Skinner. If things get too bad, it appears the Sabres might be willing to give him a salary of $10 million, too.
The Penguins might not have been perfect, but a 5-2 win always feels nice. And it must’ve felt pretty good for Mike Sullivan, who reached the 300 win milestone with the Penguins Thursday night.
First Period – 1-1
What an… interesting period against the East division’s resident bottom-dweller.
Sabres forward Casey Mittelstadt attempted an ill-advised pass near his own blueline to teammate Curtis Lazar. Kasperi Kapanen was lurking — maybe hiding in plain sight is the better phrase — and picked the pass off to create a breakaway on Sabres goaltender Jonas Johansson.
Kapanen deked Johansson out of position, forcing him to bite on an expected shot, and dropped a pass back for the trailing Evgeni Malkin. With Johansson down and out, Geno roofed an easy goal to open the scoring early in the first period. Whew, imagine if Geno had missed… moving on.
Before the Penguins could finish celebrating, Sabres forward Tage Thompson capitalized on some shoddy team defense, stealing a puck from Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, and skated around behind the net, wrapping around to force a shot past Jarry. Jarry’s stick looked to be in place, but it somehow snuck through the five-hole. Not the best equalizer for Jarry to give up.
Both teams were unable to really gain an upper hand on the other, fighting to a relative stalemate through one. The Penguins led with a 9-6 shot advantage, and a few solid chances across the lines, but it wasn’t what was expected from the Pens coming up against the Sabres.
While the Crosby line sort of struggled to make a difference, being on the ice for the weak goal against, the fourth line stepped up a bit. Anthony Angello especially created some chances, narrowly missing the net on a spinning chance before ringing iron on the next shot.
Angello isn’t necessarily someone to rely on, but he does work hard. He’s physical, aggressive and has earned a place on the fourth line for now.
Both teams earned a single power play, and both teams laid complete eggs on their chances. Not really surprising for the Penguins, but for a top-ranked Sabres’ power play, it was a mild surprise.
Second Period – 3-2, Penguins
The second period was a series of offensive shifts for the Penguins and Sabres, and the Pens struck first.
Teddy Blueger stole an errant Sabres’ pass inside the Penguins’ defensive zone and sauced a beautiful pass off the boards to a streaking Brandon Tanev, who already snuck past the Sabres defense. Tanev turned on the jets and raced in on Johansson, sending a quick backhander through his five-hole to break the deadlock.
The Penguins looked to be turning a corner in taking control of the game when Sabres forward Eric Staal avoided Letang and dumped the puck into the zone. Staal burst into the Pens’ zone, picking up the puck in the corner and rifling a pass across the ice to a wide-open Victor Olofsson in front of the net. Jarry couldn’t get back across the crease in time to stop Olofsson’s ensuing one-timer. It was tied again.
The second goal that the Letang-Dumoulin pairing was on the ice for, playing both Sabres’ scoring plays rather poorly. A lot of just standing around on the ice. Despite the rough play on both goals, the pair have played well over the past few games.
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Despite the abysmal first power play chance, the Penguins’ special teams bounced back. Malkin played a puck behind the net to Crosby, who fired it out to a wide-open Guentzel on the wing. The Sabres played the pass, giving Guentzel all the time in the world to drift in on Johansson.
Johansson pushed hard across the net to hug the near post, and Guentzel sniped a shot to the far post to reclaim the Pens’ lead.
If the Penguins just put shots on net, good things will happen! As crazy a concept as that sounds.
Third Period – 5-2, Penguins
The Penguins’ physicality was full display against the Sabres, actually overwhelming a team physically for the first time this season. A big reason for that was Angello. And he didn’t just make an impact with his body.
Angello had a puck deflect up to his body in the neutral zone on a rush early in the period; he gloved it down as he was entering the zone and absolutely ripped a hard shot from the slot up over Johansson’s glove for his second career NHL goal.
It certainly wasn’t a shot I was expecting to see from the big man, but I will definitely take it. 4-2, Pens.
The physical play did, unfortunately, lead to a couple of suspect play from the Penguins, including an unnecessarily dirty hit from Zach Aston-Reese on Sabres forward Dylan Cozen, knocking him out of the game with a hit into the boards. ZAR and Sabres defenseman Colin Miller scraped after the hit, both booked with fighting majors.
Not long after, a knee-on-knee collision between Ruhwedel and Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin led to the young defender leaving the game for a bit. Unsurprisingly, after neither play was called a penalty, the Sabres were soon awarded a power play.
While the Sabres were unable to capitalize, multiple posts were rung on the extra-man advantage. As close to a goal as ringing the post is, it doesn’t actually count as a shot. So… just tough luck for the Sabres. The Sabres were forced to pull the goalie after the unsuccessful power play.
Jarry found himself with the puck behind his net, with the opposing net empty, and let it rip down the ice. It may have gone a few feet wide, but Bryan Rust had raced down the ice to collect the bounce off the end boards and slot it into the open net to ice the 5-2 win.
The Penguins and Sabres meet again on Saturday in an important game for the Pens before hosting the Bruins in Pittsburgh for a two game series.
Puck drop on Saturday is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. As always, AT&T SportsNet will provide local coverage and ESPN+ will cover nationally.
What did you think of the Penguins’ effort against the Sabres Thursday night? Let me know in the comments!