The Pittsburgh Penguins started strong and stayed strong as they extended their points streak to five games (4-0-1) by beating the rejuvenated Buffalo Sabres 3-2 at Key Bank Arena on Saturday afternoon.
The Penguins otherwise dominated but failed to finish off Buffalo. Things got interesting midway through the third period when Casey Mittelstadt (8) snapped a power-play goal to pull Buffalo within 3-2.
With two minutes remaining, Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart hit the post with a rebound attempt. Jarry dove back to cover the puck and the Penguins preserved their win.
“We expected them to push. They have some good young players,” Cody Ceci said. “They pushed…and (Tristan Jarry) made some big saves.”
The Penguins swarmed Buffalo in the first period. The first 20 minutes very much looked like a team with 27 wins and just three points out of first place against one of the worst teams in the league. Buffalo was turnover-prone, but part of that was the Penguins puck pressure.
In the middle of the first period, the Penguins finally cracked the scoreboard on a play that looked like a Sidney Crosby special but was, in fact, Jared McCann. Buffalo goalie Dustin Tokarski steered a Mike Matheson shot to the corner, but McCann (12) banked a shot off Tokarski.
“He’s watched Sid do it a number of times a year here for a couple of years. And what better example? I think Sid scores more goals from below the goal line than anyone that I can think of,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “It may look like happenstance. It may look like it’s a lucky play, but it’s a real calculated play and it’s a heads-up play.”
It was also Matheson’s 10th assist this season. He has 14 points in 36 games.
The Penguins outshot Buffalo 12-4, and that shot clock looks close compared to the optics.
Early in the second period, Evan Rodrigues continued his energetic play. Penguins center Teddy Blueger intercepted a couple of outlet passes and clearing attempts behind the Buffalo net. Blueger fed Rodrigues (6) in the slot, and Rodrigues snapped it past Tokarski.
However, this time Buffalo answered 44 seconds later. A blocked shot, a failed clear by Jason Zucker led to a Tage Thompson (6) wrist shot from the slot.
The Penguins power play, which has reached top-10 status, converted in the middle of the second period. After extended zone time and puck movement, Bryan Rust (17) neatly deflected Sidney Crosby’s pass past Tokarski.
The Penguins had six shots on two power-play chances.
The Penguins did not thoroughly dominate the second period as they did the first, but the Penguins still flexed their superiority with a 13-8 shot advantage and extended territorial possession. The only Penguins line which failed to establish a significant advantage on shots and shot attempts was the Penguins fourth line with Mark Jankowski, Colton Sceviour and Radim Zohorna had an ugly 25% shot attempt rate (which means when they were on the ice, 75% of the shots were against them).
Thompson and Rodrigues led all players with five shots after two periods.
Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry was not often challenged, but when he was, Jarry was very good, including one sprawling save in the early moments of the second period. Jarry stopped 28 of 30 including a half dozen in the final two minutes.
Brian Dumoulin’s six-game scoring streak ended.
The Penguins have points in their last 15 games in Buffalo (13-0-2).
The Penguins claimed second place in the East Division with the win. They trail Washington by three points for first-place.
The loss officially eliminated the Buffalo Sabres from playoff contention.
Pittsburgh Penguins 3 Stars (per PHN):
- Sidney Crosby
The Penguins top line spent nearly the entire game in the Buffalo zone, as Buffalo lacked anyone who could guard Crosby. Crosby finished with one assist and four shot attempts (two on the net) but was a dangerous presence.
- Mike Matheson
Matheson pushed the offense. He also had one assist and led the Penguins team with seven shots on net. Matheson is like an extra forward in the offensive zone and he didn’t lose his defensive responsibilities, either.
- Evan Rodrigues
E-Rod may have been the best Pittsburgh Penguins forward in the first 30 minutes. He had his A-game against his former team. With a hop in his skates, he tied for the lead among all Penguins forwards with five shots (Jason Zucker, Bryan Rust also had five). He scored one goal and nearly had a couple more.