The big story to emerge from the Saturday afternoon Kids Game was not the Pittsburgh Penguins or Buffalo Sabres performance but the potential injury to Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who left the ice late in the first period and did not return. As for the game, the Penguins scored a pair of goals just 59 seconds apart midway through the second period, including a vintage Patric Hornqvist deflection. The Penguins NHL lineup controlled the Buffalo lineup which was without its top players, but the Penguins were sloppy, and Buffalo won via shootout, 3-2.
The important story was the first-period injury to Sidney Crosby and a third period injury to Bryan Rust. Crosby blocked a shot with his skate and Rust was hit in the hand by a slap shot.
“Both got hit with shots, being evaluated right now. We’ll probably have more in the morning,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan.
Hornqvist has looked like his old self in the preseason. After stumbling and slumping through the second half last season, Hornqvist has been aggressive on the forecheck and ever-present in front of the opposing goaltender.
Rust scored the second of the quick goals as he wrapped around the perimeter of the offensive zone and Buffalo goalie Linus Ullmark fumbled his turning wrist shot.
Matt Murray made 28 saves, including a handful of point-blank chances but was bested in the shootout.
Defenseman Marco Scandella and forward Zemgus Girgensons scored for Buffalo.
Penguins Impressions and Analysis
It was the first time the Pittsburgh Penguins indeed looked like they were playing a preseason game. The intensity and rhythm weren’t there until after Buffalo tied the game in the third period.
*Penguins defenseman prospect John Marino showed well, again. Paired with Jack Johnson, the duo complimented each other well. As Marino went forward, Johnson went back. The communication let Marino be more aggressive. He led the rush twice and was the late trailer for an excellent opportunity in the first period.
Marino is perhaps the Penguins second most fluid skater, behind Kris Letang. His footwork can open lanes because he’s quick but also because, with just a little turn or twist, he can fool opponents. Marino did so on a breakout Saturday. A quick turn of the heels looked like a cross-ice pass, but he glided forward out of the zone with the puck.
Yes, Marino took an unfortunate Delay of Game penalty late in the third period, which created a five-on-three power play but he was good in his final audition for an NHL roster spot.
“You never know when you’ll be able to put on the jersey again,” Marino remarked. “You try to treat every shift like it’s your last.” PHN will have more on Marino for Sunday.
*Jack Johnson. Believe it or not, want to hear it or not, Johnson also played well.
*The Pittsburgh Penguins best player was Matt Murray. For all of the wonder (for a good reason), if Murray can get off to a strong start this season, he offered a bold answer. Murray swallowed a handful of Grade A chances, including three occasions in the first period when the Penguins failed to cover players in front of the net.
Murray wasn’t in playoff form, but he was solid and Penguins fans should take note.
“It feels pretty good, but there are ways to improve for sure,” Murray said after the game.
*Kris Letang wasn’t at his best. He gambled a couple of times and was burned. He and partner Brian Dumoulin were easily split by Zemgis Girgenson’s game-tying breakaway goal in the third period. But refer to the first line–it was a preseason game, and Letang has been just fine (in other words, no reason for Letang hate to fill the boards).
*Brandon Tanev is a Tazmanian Devil. He looks to be better than the film study showed. He is relentless in pursuit of the puck, and his hits have hurt. After my film study, I had questions if Tanev inflicted damage in the physical game, but he does.
He doesn’t really have the offensive game to play with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel long term, but he will be just fine in spot duty.
*Speaking of an offensive game to play with Crosby or Malkin, Rust has been flying. His patience with the puck in the scoring zones is noticeable.
Rust looked poised for a better offensive season than he had last year. An extended absence would be a tough break for Rust.
*The Penguins depth is about to be tested. Jared McCann will likely switch back to center, as Bjugstad becomes the second-line center. It will be interesting to see how the Penguins handle the cap ramifications if neither player requires an IR assignment.