The Pittsburgh Penguins (16-9-1) didn’t play their best game, and they certainly didn’t have clean execution, but it was enough to beat the imploding Buffalo Sabres (6-15-4) 5-2 at the Key Bank center on Thursday night.
The win was Mike Sullivan’s 300th career win, making him the 14th active coach, fourth American and 50th all-time to reach the plateau.
“I haven’t given it much thought. It’s a humbling honor,” Sullivan said. “The guys gave me a nice tribute after the game.”
Buffalo tied the game twice before the Penguins pulled away.
The 26th Penguins game of the season will not be described as a goaltending duel. Neither Tristan Jarry nor Jonas Johansson was sharp.
Jake Guentzel (9) scored a power-play goal later in the second period when Johansson over-committed to the near post and left the far post wide open for Guentzel’s pinpoint shot.
That was the third Penguins goal and the first unanswered goal. In the third period, Penguins fourth-liner Anthony Angello, from the northern New York area (Albany), split two defenders and ripped a high wrister past Johansson. It was the prettiest goal of the evening, and it was the backbreaker.
“Evan Rodrigues said to let it rip anytime I get to the circles,” Angello said. “So, I didn’t think twice about shooting there.”
After putting up a fight, Buffalo faded.
The Penguins had a chance to throttle Buffalo early in the first period but wasted a power play against the 12th ranked PK unit and lost momentum when they traded quick-strike goals with the first period.
Evgeni Malkin and Kasperi Kapanen again hooked up in the first period. The two have been filling the net in recent weeks, and Kapanen darted between a D-to-D pass at center ice to create a two-on-none with Malkin. Kapanen streaked ahead on what looked like a breakaway but deked to his backhand and flipped a pass to Malkin (7), who had a yawning cage.
But…the details were still lacking in the Pittsburgh Penguins game.
Just 27 seconds later, Buffalo forward Tage Thompson (1) got around Sidney Crosby, then whizzed past defenseman Brian Dumoulin behind the net for a wrap-around goal. It was a softie as Tristan Jarry should have made the save, but it changed the game’s feeling and momentum.
The Penguins did the same in the second period, too.
A few minutes into the second period, Teddy Blueger sprang Brandon Tanev on a breakaway. Tanev (5) swiveled to the backhand and beat Jonas Johansson to the five-hole.
Tanev has five points in his last four games.
But Buffalo tied the game again with an apathetic defensive effort from a few of the Penguins’ best players. First, Riley Sheahan was able to skate past Kris Letang on the left-wing wall, then neither Bryan Rust of Brian Dumoulin took away Sheahan’s passing lane to Victor Olofsson in the slot. Olofsson (8) was wide open behind Dumoulin and one-timed it past Jarry.
It was Olofsson’s first even-strength goal since the first game of the season.
The game was not without controversy. It was the Penguins that dished a pair of questionable hits. Early in the third period, Penguins grinder Zach Aston-Reese shoved prized Buffalo rookie Dylan Cozens awkwardly into center ice boards.
Cozens was injured and immediately went to the locker room. Colin Wilson immediately dropped the gloves and defended Cozens. Aston-Reese answered the bell, though the scrap was ho-hum.
A few minutes later, Penguins defenseman caught young Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, with a knee-to-knee hit. There wasn’t a penalty on either hit. Dahlin was able to stay in the game after initially wobbling to the bench.
The Penguins fortified their third-place standing in the East Division when Bryan Rust (9) scored the empty netter. Tristan Jarry earned his third point of the season when his full-ice shot bounced wide.
Pittsburgh Penguins Gold Stars
Posts: Buffalo hit three posts between the late second period and midway through the third period. Miller hit a pair, including one that hit the post so hard it may have chipped paint.
Dahlin hit the post again midway through the third period.
Kasperi Kapanen-Evgeni Malkin: They get a star for their play in the first period. Like most Penguins, they were background noise for most of the last 40 minutes (the last six or seven minutes were pretty good, too). However, their first-period goal was a dandy.
Anthony Angello: He clearly had a little spark. In the first period, he had a couple of high-danger chances and just missed. Then he scored the Penguins’ fourth goal with a solid effort. He was in the right spot for puck support, then took advantage of a good bounce which caromed to him on the rush. He split two defenders and unleashed hell with his wrist shot.
Penguins team defense:
Far too many Buffalo Grade-A chances due to loose defending by the forwards and defensemen. The Penguins gave Buffalo space and time with the puck. Three posts and a lack of players on their toes allowed the Penguins to escape repercussions.