If the Pittsburgh Penguins received their report card after the first 30 minutes, most would have received A’s. Instead, it was a tale of two Penguins. It was not a far, far better thing they did, nor a far, far better place they went. And in the end, heads may roll as the Penguins lost in overtime to the Buffalo Sabres, 5-4 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins were outshooting the Buffalo Sabres 28-13 midway through the second period and leading 4-1. By midway through the third period, Buffalo tied the game and were outshooting the Penguins, 35-34. By the time Buffalo star Jack Eichel’s shot dribbled through Casey DeSmith, each team had 40 shots, but Buffalo had most of the scoring chances in the third period when it mattered most.
The game analysis is somewhat simple. Buffalo spotted the Penguins time and space. The young Buffalo Sabres wanted to challenge the vaunted Penguins to a duel. Buffalo wanted to play wide-open while the Penguins played a disciplined team game. The Penguins frequently had all five players engaged in the defensive zone and transitioned well after Buffalo turnovers. And there were many…in the first 30 minutes.
If ever there was an opponent against whom the Penguins could flex their superior size and strength, it was the Buffalo Sabres. Instead, the Penguins were lured into their old ways like a siren calling from the rocks.
As Buffalo pulled it together, the Penguins let it come apart. Buffalo began to outskate the Penguins, outshoot the Penguins, and Buffalo’s superior speed skated past the Penguins. And through the Penguins.
Buffalo pinched their defensemen on the wall and took away the Penguins breakouts, hemmed the Penguins into their zone and took away the Penguins forecheck which worked so well in the first 30 minutes. The Penguins defensemen weren’t able to cope with the pressure (the Kris Letang pairing excluded). As the faster Sabres swarmed, the older Penguins wilted.
For a moment, the Penguins looked like themselves. Perhaps they recognized themselves, too. But as soon as the Penguins saw their old image, Buffalo turned the speed on the Penguins, who then looked old.
The Penguins are shaken. There is no question.