The Penguins look like Stanley Cup contenders against… the Sabres

With five goals against the Buffalo Sabres, the Pittsburgh Penguins rode an almost complete team performance to a 5-2 win Wednesday night

It’s Freddy Gaudreau’s world, and we’re all just living in it.

When former 2011 first overall pick Taylor Hall and 2018 first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin attempted to create on a second period power play chance, undrafted and should-have-been-first-overall-pick Frederick Gaudreau was ready.

Hall, the 2017-18 MVP, tried to sauce a pass over Gaudreau’s stick, which he deftly knocked back to the ice. Gaudreau collected the puck, turned Dahlin inside out with a beautiful toe drag and tore off down the ice on a shorthanded breakaway chance.

With Zach Aston-Reese trailing slightly behind the play, Gaudreau outwaited Sabres goaltender Dustin Tokarski and left a pass back for ZAR, who wristed the puck into a gaping net.

A dazzling play from Gaudreau, showcasing everything the Penguins are looking for in a bottom-six forward right now. A strong defensive play, smooth skating in the neutral zone and the patience to set up a scoring chance — all on the penalty kill.

With Kasperi Kapanen picking up a lower-body injury early in the first period, Gaudreau may be forced to stick in the lineup for a while. Even when everyone is back in the lineup though, it shouldn’t be Gaudreau who’s sent back to Wilks-Barre.

A 5-2 win is always nice, even against the Sabres, and Wednesday was a fun night for the Pens.

It may be Buffalo, but the Penguins continue to light the lamp

Five different Penguins scored against the Sabres, and while the Sabres’ defense might as well have been stuck in Buffalo, that’s exactly the kind of balanced scoring the Pens will need to make a run this season.

Mark Jankowski and Sam Lafferty actually got on the board, with Lafferty setting up an easy deflection goal off a nice pass to Evan Rodrigues early in the first period.

ZAR continued his “breakout” season with a couple of points, an assist on a John Marino goal (which was very, very fitting considering his strong performance) and was the scoring recipient of Gaudreau’s excellent play.

Crosby was Crosby-like as usual. With Buffalo’s defense pinching during a 4-on-4 chance in the third, Jake Guentzel sprang Crosby on a mini-breakaway right at the blue line, and Crosby didn’t waste the chance.

With 34 points in 32 games, Crosby is the only player on the Penguins scoring more than a point per game pace this season, and while he may never challenge Edmonton’s Connor McDavid for a scoring title, the excellence of his offensive game cannot be understated. Even in his age-33 season.

Crosby’s work with Guenztel and Bryan Rust this season has been exemplary, and Wednesday’s game was just another example of their overall impact on the ice — in all three zones.

Perhaps most importantly though, the Penguins’ defense has continued a trend of providing strong offensive production. Two Pens defensemen (Marino and Kris Letang) scored goals while Mike Matheson provided an assist.

A lack of scoring depth has plagued the Penguins in the past, but offensive production has come from all over the lineup this season.

Injuries continue to pile up for the Penguins

The past few weeks have not been kind to the Penguins from an injury standpoint. It only got worse Wednesday.

Kasperi Kapanen took a shot off the ankle in the first period and slowly made his way to the bench, collapsing onto the floor in the locker room tunnel. While he did return to the game, playing in the first and second, he was not on the bench to begin the third.

Head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed that Kapenen was being evaluated for a lower-body injury after the game so his status for Thursday’s contest is up in the air at this point.

Kapanen, Brandon Tanev (day-to-day), Evgeni Malkin (week-to-week), Teddy Blueger (longer-term), Jason Zucker (longer-term) all are suffering through injuries right now, and it’s possible the Penguins will have to weather multiple games without five of their top nine forwards.

If Crosby goes down at any point, the Baby Penguins will offically be out on the ice for a full game.

Looking on the brighter side, it appears that all five will return to the ice this season — exactly when is still undetermined.

Tristan Jarry was strong in net yet again

Aside from a weird knuckle puck from Dahlin slapper at the blue line at the end of first period, Jarry was very sharp against the Sabres. With 26 saves on 28 shots, Jarry’s only other allowed goal came courtesy of Sabres forward Victor Olofsson.

After missing a clear penalty shot chance after Letang hooked Sabres forward Casey Middlestadt, the referees called a much weaker chance after Letang hooked Olofsson on a breakaway. Olofsson skated in and wristed a blistering shot through Jarry’s five-hole to make it a 5-2 game.

Aside from Dahlin’s knuckle puck slapper, Jarry was only beat by one of the better shots in the game on a penalty shot. No shame in that.

With a .929 save percentage against the Sabres, that stretched Jarry’s streak of games with a .913 save percentage or better to six games now. In the 16 games since Valentine’s Day, Jarry was gone 11-4-1 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.38 goals against average.

Jarry’s return to excellence has coincided with stronger defensive play in front of him, but he’s also making the big key saves that he wasn’t early in the season.

Quick Points

  • Man, you gotta feel for those Sabres fans right now. That’s 15 straight losses, and there isn’t much light at the end of the tunnel at this point with franchise cornerstone Jack Eichel likely on the way out. The struggles of Dahlin are just the (expired?) icing on the cake.
  • With the win, the Penguins pushed their cushion over the Boston Bruins to six points for the third seed in the East Division. However, the Bruins have played in five less games to this point.
  • Fittingly, the Penguins play the Bruins and the New York Islanders next week, two games against each. Every game is so important down the stretch.

The Penguins play the Sabres again Thursday night with the puck drop scheduled for 7:00 p.m. After being a national broadcast Wednesday night, coverage from AT&T SportsNet will resume for local viewers.

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