The Pittsburgh Penguins (20-11-2) put to rest worries about their goal-scoring ability, at least for one night. The Penguins hung five goals, including a shorthanded goal on the reeling Buffalo Sabres (6-21-4). Sidney Crosby and Zach Aston-Reese each had one goal and an assist as the Penguins beat Buffalo 5-2 win at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday night.
Buffalo goalie Dustin Tokarski made his first NHL start since 2015. The Penguins promptly blitzed the goalie with 20 shots in the first period, and a pair of Buffalo gaffes put a pair of Penguins goals on the board.
In the middle of the first period, Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin pinched into the offensive zone, but no forwards covered. The Penguins bolted from the zone with a three-on-one.
“A lot of teams are aggressive now with there with their D, so when you make good wall plays in the D-zone, it usually leads to odd-man rushes,” Zach Aston-Reese said. “So we’ve just been talking about defense first and that’s been leading to our offense.”
Sam Lafferty dished a saucer pass across the defenseman to Evan Rodrigues (3), who neatly buried the chance into a yawning cage. 1-0.
Later in the first period, the Penguins took advantage of a Buffalo defensive zone turnover. Sidney Crosby forced a turnover, and Bryan Rust won a puck battle on the midwall. Crosby’s centering pass was deflected toward the net and a crashing Kris Letang (6), who quickly snapped a top-shelf wrister. 2-0.
However, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry allowed another blue line blast to slip by. Rasmus Dahlin (2) beat him with a slap shot from the blue line late in the first period, which kept Buffalo in the game. The Penguins were within moments of breaking Buffalo, which was winless in 14 straight (0-12-2).
Penguins winger Kasperi Kapanen nearly left the game in the second period but limped around the tunnel flexing his knee. Late in the period, he did leave the bench.
The Penguins lines were a bit jumbled from there. But it didn’t matter. Buffalo faltered late in the second period, which sealed their fate for a 15th straight L.
With less than three minutes remaining in the second period, Colton Sceviour created a turnover in the offensive zone. A couple of passes later, the puck was on John Marino’s stick. Marino (2), who pinched into the scoring zone, blasted it past Tokarski from the right-wing circle. 3-1.
“I think we’re in a good spot and everyone kind of knows when to jump up and the forwards It’s kind of know when to look for us,” Marino said. “The communication just has been huge so far and the chemistry is just kind of building off each other. So it’s been great so far, but (there has) definitely been an emphasis on it.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins scored another shorthanded goal, too. In the final 30 seconds of the period, Frederick Gaudreau intercepted Taylor Hall’s pass at the top of the zone, showed some stickhandling wizardry to elude a defender, and launched himself on a breakaway.
Gaudreau was caught from behind, but his drop pass to Zach Aston-Reese was on the tape. Aston-Reese (7) slammed it home for the backbreaker. 4-1. That was Gaudreau’s first NHL point since Feb. 5, 2019.
“He made a really nice play at the blue line. I think he toe-dragged Dahlin. It was a great effort. Honestly, I had no idea he was going to give me the puck” laughed Aston-Reese. “I was in awe of the play.”
Early in the third, the Penguins made sure Buffalo wasn’t just mostly dead. Marino stood up a pair of Buffalo rushers. Defenseman Mike Matheson took the puck away. A quick up-pass to Jake Guentzel became a Sidney Crosby (13) breakaway goal.
Victor Olofsson (9) scored on a penalty shot with five minutes remaining.
Jarry stopped 26 of 28 shots. Tokarski was pretty good, despite the scoreboard. He made 37 saves.
So, Freddy, how would you feel about more NHL paychecks? Gaudreau has been a hustler since his recall. Gaudreau has been a presence on the ice and has been able to generate pressure.
“Yeah, that was awesome. That was really cool to see. Just a great effort by him hopefully Reeser buys him dinner or something after that play,” Marino laughed about Gaudreau’s assist on Aston-Reese’s goal.
Gaudreau may well be the Penguins’ new fourth-line center when everyone is healthy.
Marino not only lit the lamp, but he played well in the defensive zone. Without watching the game replay, it appeared he played VERY well.
Seven goals in 22 games. His career-high is eight goals, achieved in far more games. Aston-Reese had one goal waved off because the puck was played with a high stick, but his play is leaps and bounds better in the offensive zone than it has been.
The Penguins penalty kill allowed one shot on Buffalo’s three power plays. They were aggressive and attacked well.
They could have quit. They’ve lost for about one month straight. But they played fast, with energy, and hard. They’re a depleted lineup, too, but they gave what they had.