The Pittsburgh Penguins (10-7-3) looked like a team determined to end their offensive struggles in the first period. The Penguins pressed and gambled for nearly 20 minutes, the Buffalo Sabres (5-9-4) counterattacked, but an ugly goal by Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist at the end of the first period sparked the Penguins to a wild 5-4 overtime win over the Sabres, Tuesday at the PPG Arena.
Hornqvist was the Penguins heart. His play sparked the team and linemate Conor Sheary, who netted a pair (7, 8), including the overtime game-winning goal.
The Penguins fired 15 shots at Sabres goalie Robin Lehner in the first period, not including Ian Cole’s slap shot which rang off the crossbar. The Penguins were clearly clutching their sticks tightly, and it was the 15th shot which finally activated the red light.
With just 18 seconds left in the first period, Hornqvist (6) chipped a puck off Lehner from behind the goal line. It wasn’t the prettiest goal of the night, but it was vintage Hornqvist, who skipped the celebration and flashed an angry acknowledgment of the Penguins frustration.
The goal proved to be the tinder for the Penguins offense. And the downfall of the Sabres as Penguins finally received offensive pressure from all four lines.
Hornqvist and Sheary again played on the third line with Riley Sheahan.
The Sabres threw the first punches, counter punches actually. As the Penguins pressed, the Sabres created several odd-man rushes. Just three minutes into the game, the Sabres best players, Jake Eichel and Evander Kane converted a two-on-one break.
Ian Cole pinched in the offensive zone, leaving Justin Schultz as the lone man to face the Sabres. Eichel made a slick move to get the puck past Schultz to Kane (10) who picked the top corner on Penguins goalie Matt Murray.
The Sabres made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at 16:53 of the first period. Sam Reinhart, who minutes earlier was leveled at center ice by Ian Cole, was the lucky recipient of a strong bounce off the back wall. Defenseman Marco Scandella’s slap shot from the point was wide but caromed off the back boards to in front to Reinhart (3) who quickly slammed the puck behind Murray.
The Sabres also struck quickly in the second period. At just :16, the Penguins defensive zone coverage looked more like a Marx Brothers routine. Eichel (5) provided the punchline with an unassisted goal. Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, and Kris Letang went different directions behind the net as Crosby’s backhand pass intended for Rust, or Letang…or Chico or Harpo…was easily grabbed by Eichel for the easy stuff-in goal.
It was Eichel’s first goal in 9 games.
Sheary finished a two-on-one dish from Hornqvist, four minutes into the second period. The Penguins covered 200 feet with just two passes–A stretch pass from Maatta to Hornqvist at the Sabres blue line created the odd-man rush. It was 3-2 Sabres.
“We played hard, we got pucks to the net,” said Hornqvist.
The Penguins engine was finally at full speed.
With three minutes left in the second period, Crosby also broke his 12 game goalless drought and tied the game, 3-3. The Penguins power play looked powerful as Crosby (6) fired a Phil Kessel rebound into the net over a sprawled Lehner.
The Penguins dominated play in the second period. They took 75% of shots and shot attempts, according to naturalstatrick.com. However, it was the Sabres who again counterpunched.
Penguins fourth-liner Ryan Reaves took an elbowing penalty, which lead to Benoit Pouliot’s power-play goal with just seven seconds left in the second period. The Sabres despite being outshot 11-4 in the period, lead 4-3.
The Penguins continued their frenetic attack in the third period, with a 73.3% Corsi. The Penguins attempted 22 shots in the third period but allowed only eight attempts.
It took the Penguins 14 minutes to tie the game. Lehner made several spectacular saves, but Phil Kessel(8) one-timed a beautiful saucer pass from Evgeni Malkin for the evener.
The Penguins continued to press, but Lehner made several more jaw-dropping saves, including a stretching glove save on Bryan Rust with five minutes left.
The Penguins would not quit. Crosby dominated the puck to begin overtime. He shook a pair of defenders behind the Sabres goal line, and zipped a pass to Sheary on the doorstep.
Game, set, match. Penguins won 5-4.
–Hornqvist and Sheary made the difference. The third line. This was the effort the Penguins have needed from the supporting cast. Hornqvist was held without a shot in Nashville, Saturday. He was strong from the opening faceoff.
–Phil Kessel. He is no longer the shooter or one-dimensional goal scorer. Kessel is a playmaker, goal scorer, a leader, and plays a more well-rounded game than he ever has.
–Matt Murray also played very well. The four goals allowed are largely the result of Penguins defensemen making poor decisions–either to press in the offensive zone or poor coverage in the defensive zone. The Penguins forwards didn’t do many favors for the Penguins defensive effort, as well.
–The Penguins power-play was demonstrably better. Crosby and Malkin moved around, sometimes Crosby went to the slot and Malkin went down low, and vice versa. Justin Schultz at the point is a different flavor than Letang and one I prefer. It isn’t a coincidence since Schultz returned to the lineup, the Penguins have scored nine goals in the last two games.
I think Schultz is a better puck mover, quicker, than Letang. And Schultz has a strong shot from the point which stays low but gets to the net.
–The Sabres are on the right track. Evander Kane’s re-emergence makes them a dangerous team, which is one or two players away from being a playoff team. That may sound like damning praise, but the Sabres have been a lifeless team for a few years. They’re closer to respectability than their record indicates.