The Penguins shutout the Sabres and push the win streak to five games

Casey DeSmith #1 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Casey DeSmith #1 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

After a strong defensive game from the Pittsburgh Penguins, two empty net goals iced a 3-0 shutout win over the Buffalo Sabres Saturday night

Casey DeSmith secured his first shutout of the season with 24 saves to outduel Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton in a game that showcased excellent goaltending.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, their offense left him out to dry while the Penguins put together one of their most complete contests of the season. Jake Guentzel is still really good at hockey, too.

Saturday night’s win was a bit unconvential in the ways it was won, but the lasting impact — even against the Sabres — cannot be understated.

The duo of Tristan Jarry and DeSmith has proved me wrong. I didn’t think Jarry was ready to shoulder the load as a true No. 1 goaltender, and I wasn’t sure if DeSmith was good enough to step up and be that 1B if needed.

Jarry has rounded into form and played as one of the better goaltenders in the NHL over the last month, and DeSmith has been phenomenal when handed starts, compiling a .912 save percentage and 2.23 goals against average.

It’s remarkable what NHL-level defending can do for a goaltending. Look at Matt Murray wasting away out in Ottawa. Jarry and DeSmith are no Murray/Fleury, but they’re pretty darn good right now.

You can’t discuss the dramatic goaltending turnaround without addressing the defensive improvement in front of them.

Brian Dumoulin has been a revelation in his return to the lineup. Aside from his return coinciding with the current five game win streak, the Pens have only lost two games in regulation with him in the lineup — the opening two games against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Letang’s high-octane style of play has been truly unlocked, allowing the Dumo-Letang pairing to return to a high level of play. However, the real shock has been Cody Ceci being the most consistent member of the Penguins’ blueline this season.

Yes. Yes, I know. That’s not a sentence I ever would have imagined typing, but… here we are. And we’re all the better for it.

While Sidney Crosby hasn’t been his usual world-beating self over the past few games, his 200-foot empty netter was very fitting, and his linemates have been continuing to showcase why they’re among the NHL’s biggest difference makers.

Bryan Rust has been on a bit of drought as of late, two just two goals in his last six games, but his defensive play against the Sabres showcased his two-way ability. In a one goal game with time winding away in the third period, a Crosby shot on the power play deflected out to center and gave Sabres forward Tobias Reider a breakaway chance.

Even though DeSmith appeared to be well positioned, Rust hustled back and knocked the puck off his stick before he could get a shot off. And again, this time with the Sabres attacking on an empty net extra man up late in the game, Rust completely gave up his body to block a shot from the point.

He may not have been able to bury any of his number of chances, but he found ways to impact the game. Jake Guentzel made up for the scoring slack, too.

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On the power play in the second period, the Penguins wasted no time in getting a shot on net. Kris Letang swung a pass to Evgeni Malkin along the wall, and Malkin shot the puck toward Guentzel in front of the goal.

Guentzel deflected the puck on Hutton on his initial chance, but the puck bounced off Hutton’s pads. No problem, Guentzel simply batted it out of the air and past Hutton into the back of the net. Jake has a knack for finding the back of the net in different ways, and his power play goal was marvelous example.

And even though the Malkin and Kasperi Kapanen connection didn’t create any spectacular goals, the pair did draw the power play which led to the goal when Malkin was hooked to the ice in front of the Sabres’ net.

With five wins in a row, 10 of the last 13 games, and only two of those wins have required overtime. In that span, the Penguins risen from outside the playoff picture to third in the East division, three points behind Washington and three points ahead of Boston.

Which only makes this next two game series that much more vital as the Penguins host the Bruins. Despite their recent slump, the Bruins remain a strong, physical team that should compete for the Stanley Cup this season.

The Sabres and New Jersey Devils loom after the Bruins, but the Penguins have a chance to really secure their spot in the playoff race before heading into a stretch of win-able games.

The Pens and Bruins will play Monday and Tuesday this week, with puck drop scheduled for 7:00 p.m. in both contests. As always, AT&T SportsNet will broadcast the game locally and ESPN+ will provide national coverage.

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What did you think of the Penguins’ performance against the Sabres? Let me know in the comments!