PITTSBURGH — It didn’t take long for the Pittsburgh Penguins to strike fear in the hearts of many. However, the fear they instilled Thursday night was not in the Buffalo Sabres but in the fanbase which is tenuously hoping for better results than last season and quietly fears the team will miss the playoffs as the dynasty winds down. Buffalo (1-0-0) slipped forwards behind the Penguins (0-1-0) defensemen for breakaways, kept the puck away from the Penguins best players and beat the Penguins 3-1 at PPG Paints Arena.
There were even boos from the home fans in the third period after the Penguins stumbled through a pair of power plays.
The Penguins struggled to find their sea legs in the first period. Five minutes into the first period, former Penguins winger Conor Sheary sneaked behind typically reliable defenseman Brian Dumoulin just five minutes into the game. Sheary roofed a wrister over Penguins goalie Matt Murray’s blocker-side shoulder. In three previous games against the Penguins, Sheary had four points (2g, 2a).
It was a sneaky little play as Dumoulin jumped forward in the zone to defend the puck carrier, there was no one to switch and cover Sheary who took a couple of quick strides and was alone on Murray.
After the first 10 minutes, Buffalo outshot the Penguins 14-3.
Sheary scored again with five minutes left in the second period. After Murray served a rebound towards defenseman Erik Gudbranson. However, Gudbranson didn’t get his stick on it and defense partner Marcus Pettersson didn’t prevent Sheary from getting the puck or the shot. Sheary (2) snapped it through traffic for a power-play goal and a 2-1 Buffalo lead.
Malkin was extraordinary Thursday night. In addition to at least three scoring chances in the first period, Malkin (1) converted a power-play goal five minutes into the second period. Patric Hornqvist screened Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton and Malkin lit the lamp with a low, short-side shot. The marker was the culmination of exemplary play from Malkin and a deserved reward.
However, it was the only highlight for the Penguins which too often mishandled pucks and were caught flat-footed against the Buffalo transition game.
Buffalo ripped off a pair of breakaways later in the second period as the Penguins pressed forward. Buffalo used stretch passes to spring Victor Olofsson and Jeff Skinner on clearn chances against Murray.
The Buffalo blitz continued, too. Moments after the breakaways, Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin outskated Penguins forward Teddy Blueger and was alone against Murray, too. Dahlin (1) chipped it home for a 3-1 Buffalo lead.
The Pittsburgh Penguins never really made it close. Buffalo fired over 40 shots on goal and consistently blunted the Penguins rush. Even Evgeni Malkin who was spectacular in the first half of the game receded into the background.
More from the locker room coming up.