A night of milestones in the Penguins’ shutout win over the Sabres

Jared McCann #19 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Jared McCann #19 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

A very first point and a 1,300th point, among other milestones, led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night

On most nights, three assists to reach the 1,300 points plateau — the eighth fastest to reach the milestone — would be the headline. Especially considering Sidney Crosby earned the honor.

If not for Crosby’s milestone, Radim Zohorna scoring in the first period of his first NHL game — on a sharp one-timer no less — would be the headline. Or, if not for Zohorna, Jared McCann coming within inches of his first NHL hat trick would.

Instead, on a night of near perfection, it was Casey DeSmith who was the headline… again.

Yes, it was against the Sabres. Yes, the Sabres are an inherently awful team this season. However, DeSmith’s 36-save shutout, his second of the season, is just an extension of his impeccable play over the last six games.

In his past six games, DeSmith has stopped 166 of 172 shots faced (.965%) for a goals against average of 1.00. And he’s somehow lost two games in that stretch.

Maybe it’s time to begin wondering just what DeSmith’s upside truly is. The 29-year-old ranks among the best goalies in the NHL this season, courtesy of a .928 save percentage and 1.93 goals against average. For all intents and purposes, DeSmith is the 1B to Tristan Jarry’s 1A.

There are a lot of important players on the Penguins’ roster right now — a lot of those players are hurt — and none may be more important than the tandem of Jarry and DeSmith. They’ve been that excellent lately.

Besides, what goalie would truly enjoy playing in a system where you’re guaranteed to face at least five odd-man rushes a game?

Sidney Crosby is still really, really, really good at hockey

Crosby (three assists), Jake Guentzel (goal) and Bryan Rust (assist) were nearly unstoppable against the Sabres Thursday night.

The Crosby line drew FOUR penalties against the Sabres, Crosby himself drawing three, and two of those power play chances led to goals from McCann. Man, he’s got a helluva release. Of course, Crosby assisted on both goals.

Not just content with dominating possession, the line created countless scoring chances in a variety of different ways. Crosby to Guentzel on cross-crease feeds, Rust shielding the puck expertly as he wraps around the net to fire a shot on Sabres goaltender Dustin Tokarski and more.

More from Pens Labyrinth

There have been times this season, although those are firmly in the rear-view mirror, where Crosby hasn’t been as dominant in 5-on-5 play where he should be. That was not the case Thursday, even though all three points came on the power play or down a man.

With his three assists, driving his point totals to 37 in 33 games, Crosby reached the 1,300 point milestone. With just 1,014 games played, Crosby is the eighth fastest player in NHL history to reach the mark, only three games slower than NHL legends Jaromir Jagr and Bryan Trottier.

(160 games quicker than Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for reference, but who’s counting?)

Also, Crosby’s hustle to keep the puck in the zone on a Sabres’ clearing chance on the first power play chance of the second period directly led to McCann’s first goal of the night. It truly is the little things that define perfection.

What the f*** do the Penguins do with Jared McCann?

Did you know McCann is still only 24 years old? Why does it feel like he’s been around since the mid-2000s?

During his year and a half tenure with the Penguins prior to the start of this season, McCann has shown flashes of brilliance. Almost two years ago to the day, Teddy Blueger and McCann combined for one of the prettiest shorthanded goals you’ll ever see.

Poised for a breakout 2019-20 season, McCann jumped out of the gates well on his way to a 20-goal season. A 22 game goal-less drought to end the season effectively squashed that chance and crippled McCann’s confidence.

For a player with such speed and shooting capabilities, it was truly mystifying. Although as he was shunted acorss the lineup, forced to center new lines and adapting to others on the wing, it wasn’t surprising McCann didn’t finish the season on a tear.

Without a true spot in the lineup this season AND with an injury forcing missed time, McCann has still produced seven goals and 13 points in 21 games. With an audition on the second line and PP1, McCann has delivered.

At least, he showed what he’s capable of Thursday. Two blistering snapshots on the power play beat Tokarski and showcased just what McCann is capable of doing for the Penguins this season. It’s clear McCann has earned extended power play time, but when the injuries are weathered, where does McCann end up?

It appears one of McCann and Zucker is destined for the fourth line. If McCann keeps driving play by scoring on the power play and creating 5-on-5 chances, it won’t be him.

Radim Zohorna and a potential fourth line?

Notable Penguins to score in the first period of their first game include someone called Mario Lemieux and someone called Jake Guentzel. You can add Radim Zohorna to that list now.

Despite starting Thursday’s game with Mark Jankowski and Sam Lafferty, Zohorna moved down to the fourth line with Anthony Angello and Frederick Gaudreau. And the result was perfect — and a goal.

Angello started the chance by feeding Gaudreau in front of the net, Gaudreau’s shot bouncing behind the net. Angello collected the rebound and backhanded a pass to Zohorna, who found a bubble of space in the slot and blasted a one-timer past Tokarski’s glove to open the scoring.

Watching Zohorna jump into Angello’s arms, a beaming smile plastered on his face, after scoring the goal was magical. That’s what it’s all about.

The fourth line didn’t play much, Gaudreau leading the way after playing almost five minutes of perfect penalty killing time, but the Zohorna-Gaudreau-Angello line actually looked good.

Playing tough minutes against the opposing teams’ top line is always nice, but when the fourth line can chip in goals — the goal opening goal no less — that’s even better. Zohorna didn’t look out of place against the Sabres.

You can be funny and say Zohorna basically played against an AHL team, and I won’t argue too much, but his transition from international ice to North American ice is going very, very well. His size, energy and soft hands would look good on the fourth line in the future.

With all the injuries, why not continue to see what you’ve got in him, too?

With Brandon Tanev potentially back in the lineup against the New York Islanders Saturday night, the Penguins will have one more impact forward hopefully able to go. As long as Zahorna and Gaudreau remain in the lineup.

Puck drop against the Islanders is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. AT&T SportsNet will provide local coverage and ESPN+ will provide coverage for all others.

dark. Next. Check out what a potential Penguins' lineup could look like entering the playoffs this season

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