The Pittsburgh Penguins (20-11-2) didn’t put away the Buffalo Sabres (6-21-4) until the third period, but that wasn’t because the Penguins were flat. With a new coach and new speed credo, Buffalo played much better than recent outings. The Penguins eventually wore down Buffalo for a 5-2 win.
It was Buffalo’s 15th consecutive game without a win (0-13-2). The teams will finish their two-game set on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Fortunately, the puck drop is back to the usual at 7 p.m. Does anyone like the 8 p.m. starts??
The Penguins looked like a four-line team on Wednesday night. They got offensive contributions from Evan Rodrigues, Zach Aston-Reese, Frederick Gaudreau, and even Mark Jankowski.
“To see guys get rewarded for some of their efforts that don’t normally score goals, I think was great on our part. I thought Freddy (Gaudreau) had a strong game. Freddie’s line had a strong game,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “To see Zach score again, I think is going to be great for his confidence. I thought Jankowski’s line had had a real solid game.”
Aston-Reese (7) has eclipsed last season’s goal mark in just 22 games played. PHN detailed Aston-Reese’s breakout. The player credits his repaired shoulder. We credit something else.
Penguins winger Brandon Tanev did not practice on Tuesday, so his status remains in doubt. And Kasperi Kapanen was injured in the second period on Wednesday night. Here’s the Kapanen video. Sullivan won’t address the media until 5:45 p.m. on Thursday, so we won’t know injury statuses until then.
UPDATE: Kasperi Kapanen is out week-to-week. Radim Zohorna will make his NHL debut. The lines below are correct.
Zohorna practiced with the full squad on Tuesday. The Penguins recalled Drew O’Connor to the taxi squad, also.
Sullivan will start backup goalie Casey DeSmith. This season, DeSmith is 7-3-0 with a 2.11 GAA and .919 save percentage.
Buffalo’s goalie situation is a bit of a mystery. Injuries and a trade have depleted their depth. On Wednesday night, Dustin Tokarski made his first NHL start since 2015. His backup was Michael Houser, who just signed his entry-level-contract last week and has not made his NHL debut. Houser is a 28-year-old minor-league journeyman who played with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL last season.
Carter Hutton is listed on the active roster.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines & Special Teams
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Jason Zucker||Evgeni Malkin||Rickard Rakell|
|Danton Heinen||Ryan Poehling||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Brock McGinn||Sam Poulin||Drew O'Connor|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Marcus Pettersson||Jeff Petry|
|P.O Joseph||Jan Rutta|
|Anders Bjork||Sam Reinhart||Victor Olafsson|
|Rasmus Asplund||Casey Mittelstadt||Tage Thompson|
|Arttu Ruotsalainen||Riley Sheahan||Dylan Cozens|
|Jeff SKinner||Cody Eakin||Drake Caggiula|
|Rasmus Dahlin||Henri Jokiharju|
|Mattias Samuelsson||Rasmus Ristolainen|
|Jacob Bryson||Colin Miller|
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||24.1% (7-29, 11th)||72% (7-25, 28th)|
|Vancouver Canucks||22.2% (6-27, 17th)||60% (10-25, 32nd)|
What to Watch
Don Granato’s Buffalo Sabres are to Ralph Krueger’s version is to what Mike Sullivan’s Penguins are to Mike Johnston’s version. The conservative, slower playing Sabres are gone, and Granato has flung open the barn doors.
Buffalo will make mistakes, they will make a few gaffes, but they’re also playing at a much higher level. Very much like Mike Sullivan’s first month back in December 2015, players are adjusting to new-found freedoms and responsibilities. Buffalo won’t suck much longer. They won’t be very good, but the dreadful team appears to have left with the conservative system.
Buffalo’s speed allows the Penguins to play to their speed game, too. We didn’t bother with a Game 1 report card at 2 a.m., but the simple is: The Penguins controlled the style of their zone entry. They were able to chip the puck in and achieve a high rate of retrieval. They also backed in defenders and were able to have controlled zone entries, too.
If the Penguins can get puck possession on the mid-wall, the magic starts, just like if the Penguins play on the rush.
The Penguins got a pair of goals from defensemen, too. Both Kris Letang and John Marino scored by pinching. Letang raced all the way to the net, while Marino only needed to step into the right-wing circle.
The Penguins also took advantage of Buffalo’s crashing defensemen on the wall.
“A lot of teams are aggressive now 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.”
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes:
Position, Player (Consecutive Games Missed, Total Games Missed)
F Jason Zucker (16 consecutive, 16 total)
D Mark Friedman (11 consecutive, 11 total)
F Teddy Blueger (5 consecutive, 5 total)
F Evgeni Malkin (4 consecutive, 4 total)
F Brandon Tanev (3 consecutive, 3 total)
2020-21 Total Regular-Season Man-Games Lost: 175
*Brandon Tanev was placed on the IR retroactive to March 18. As of printing, Radim Zohorna is the only available forward to take Kapanen’s spot. However, the Penguins could recall any player from their taxi squad this afternoon.
*The Penguins Current Taxi Squad:
F – Justin Almeida
F – Drew O’Connor
F – Sam Miletic
D – Yannick Weber
G – Maxime Lagace
*The Penguins now have 60 goals at home on the season, the fifth-most in the league.
*The Penguins’ 42 shots on Wednesday matched a season-high set vs. New Jersey last Thursday.
*Twelve Penguins had at least one point in the win.
*Frederick Gaudreau’s assist on Zach Aston-Reese’s shorthanded goal was Gaudreau’s first NHL point since Feb. 5, 2019.
*The Penguins have points in 22 of its last 24 games against Buffalo (19-2-3) dating back to October 5, 2013.
*The Pittsburgh Penguins have points in 14 of their last 19 games overall (13-5-1).
How to Watch
TV: AT&T SportsNet; Radio: 105.9 The X