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Pens Comeback Not Enough: Impressions & Analysis From Game 1



It was not a pretty game for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not even close. Despite a nearly full five minute three-on-three overtime, the Penguins did not register 20 shots. Nor did they spend much time in the Buffalo Sabres zone, at least until the third period. The Penguins scored three quick goals in the third period to force overtime, but Jack Eichel’s breakaway goal saved the win for Buffalo, 5-4 at the Pegula Arena Ice in State College.

At different points, Buffalo outshot the Penguins 15-1, 37-8, and finally 47-18. However, a furious comeback in the first half of the third period transformed a 4-1 drubbing into a 4-4 overtime game.

If you’d like to know who made mistakes, allowed scoring chances and goals, that would be nearly everyone. Call it a full team effort.

We don’t need to put the boots to the Penguins for a performance which, to be generous, wasn’t as coordinated as Buffalo. The Penguins faced top center Jack Eichel, winger Jeff Skinner, in addition to Conor Sheary and talented youngsters Tage Thompson and Jimmy Vesey. The Penguins countered with something akin to their fourth line with Teddy Blueger, Bryan Rust, Zach Aston-Reese and Dominik Simon played center.

Otherwise, the Penguins let the kids play on the college campus.

So, a Pittsburgh team entered a game at Penn State despite being underpowered and overmatched yet took the game to the wire but lost. Gee, where else have we seen that this week? At least Mike Sullivan didn’t ask Aston-Reese to kick a field goal from the crease.

“I was really happy for them in the third period. We got a lot of juice, and we scored a couple of goals. You could see the excitement on the bench,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “So, I was pretty pleased with the fight. I thought our guys played pretty hard against a really strong lineup.”

The Penguins scored the first goal just four minutes into the game when first-round pick Sam Poulin and third-round pick Nathan Legare created a turnover on the forecheck. Poulin dislodged the puck from the defender, and Legare raced deep into the zone to get the loose puck. Legare immediately snapped a pass into the slot which Andrew Agozzino deflected into the net.

Aggozzino, 28, played 11 games for the Colorado Avalanche (1g, 1a) last season but is a career AHL player. He scored 60 points (26g, 34a) in 56 AHL games.

However, Buffalo scored the next four goals as the Penguins nary got a shot on net. Literally. The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t get their fourth shot on goal until after the goalie change in the middle of the second period. Starter Carter Hutton faced only three shots.

Sam Lafferty scored in the period on a nifty pass from defenseman John Marino. Adam Johnson scored on a breakaway, then Ryan Haggerty continued his offensive explosion in Penguins preseason games, which dates back to last season. Those goals tied the game until Eichel ended it with a breakaway goal late in overtime.

Rather than harp upon the negatives of which every player had a few, we will highlight the noted strong plays. There was plenty to note, even before the energetic third period comeback.

Penguins Thoughts and Analysis

Under siege, Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson eluded a forechecker during a Penguins line change. Once an outlet was finally available, Johnson zipped a crip pass to center ice, and the Penguins transitioned to offense.

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman prospect defenseman John Marino from Harvard, who was acquired last month from the Edmonton Oilers for a sixth-round pick, made several plays at each end of the rink. Marino raced back to intercept what would have been a breakaway.

Marino also set up a goal when quickly changed direction from skating backward to forward, kept the puck in at the blue line and raced it around the offensive zone. He set up Sam Lafferty’s third period goal. Marino was a defensive defenseman at Harvard, though he told PHN last weekend he wanted to add more offense to his game. Thus far, mission accomplished.

Marino is showing more and more. Don’t get too excited, but with a little salt and pepper in Wilkes-Barre, he could challenge for the NHL sooner than later.

Legare and Poulin did not appear to be out of place. They weren’t NHL caliber, yet, but they had moments. Legare’s wrist show is explosive. Poulin really has a complete game. Neither appears to be too far out of place with their skating, which was the criticism of each. Poulin does not seem to have any trouble getting to his spots. Legare appears to be learning those spots. It will be both fun and exciting to see their development through the preseason. Hopefully, the Penguins keep the kids around a little while longer.

The goalies were spectacular. Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith made a few 10-bell saves and otherwise kept the game within reach. Each was very good. DeSmith made 23 of 25 saves, and Jarry stopped 19 of 22.

Teddy Blueger and Bryan Rust, as we noted Sunday, could form a dynamic fourth line. The duo was lightning fast against Buffalo. They were disruptive and aggressive on the forecheck; precisely as they should be.