For the second time in two nights, the Pittsburgh Penguins vanquished the somewhat hapless Buffalo Sabres, and Tristan Jarry earned a win. Even strength goals by Evgeni Malkin (8) and Carl Hagelin(2), coupled with Jarry’s slick netminding, were more than enough Saturday to give the Penguins a 5-1 win at PPG Paints Arena.
Jarry made 32 saves Saturday, and 66 in two nights against the Sabres including a shutout, Friday.
Patric Hornqvist (10) steered a Sidney Crosby pass into the net for a power-play goal, in the final minute of the second period. Phil Kessel (12) did that hockey in the third period, and Sidney Crosby (12) filled the empty net.
1. Phil Kessel has become a dominant force. His third period goal was vintage Kessel–a wicked wrister on the rush from one foot in the right wing circle.
He has 33 points (12g, 21a) in 28 games. He’s had productive offensive seasons in the past, but not with the well-rounded game which is noticeable in all phases including in the defensive zone. He’s a playmaker. A shooter. And a positive force in the room.
I’ve bagged Kessel in the past. Deservedly so. He hasn’t always played a complete game. Now he is. He is having an extraordinary year which the Canadian press will soon need to recognize.
2. I asked Patric Hornqvist about the recent offensive surge–4 games, 19 goals.
He said “all four lines are going. All three (defense) pairings are going. We’ve got a hot goaltender.” Here’s the good stuff– “Before that it was one line at the time who had a good game for us.”
I also asked about confidence: “For sure. You can see that out there. We get the step on the guys and make those plays under presure…”
3. The Buffalo Sabres have far more talent than they are showing. There doesn’t seem to be much fight in that dog. It would be cruel to fire a first-year head coach, and longtime Sabre, Phil Housley but something has to give. GM Jason Botterill can’t give away another season in Buffalo. The ship is sinking. Time for a shakeup.
Chad Johnson as a backup goaltender could be a nice trade chip. But, the big fish is Evander Kane. As a power forward, he’s finally blooming and could be useful to any team. His attitude issues are overblown and…perhaps the result of hockey’s conformist culture, not a poor attitude. Read that last sentence carefully.
4. Tristan Jarry will be a starting goaltender next season. The Penguins may selfishly delay that by keeping him behind Matt Murray, but after this season GM’s will be lining up to get Jarry. He’s the real deal. It’s been hard to identify flaws in his game, other than he’s a bit rubbery. As he gains more experience, he’ll absorb more shots.
It’s fun to watch him play the position. He doesn’t have Murray’s size, so he moves more and does so with near perfect fundamentals–arms tight to his torso, on his knees, head to the puck, paddle over the five hole. He also uses the stick to move opponents who are too close.
Shooters will find the weakness, but they haven’t yet. Jarry is not yet Murray’s equal, so skip the goalie controversy talk, but Jarry is good.
The Penguins record for rookie shutouts is six by Les Binkley in 1967-68. Johan Hedberg had six in his first NHL season, 2001-02, but he was 27 years old and thus not considered a “rookie.”
5. On December 2, 1925, the first NHL game in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Pirates lost to the New York Americans, 2-1. Lester Patrick–grandfather of Craig Patrick, did not coach the Americans until 1926.
6. Carl Hagelin looked relevant against the Sabres, Friday, and Saturday. Hagelin’s goal was a beauty; a tic-tac-toe play down low. Riley Sheahan on the goal line to Bryan Rust in the slot, back to Hagelin down low. Hagelin, uncontested, skated in front of the Sabres net. Seriously, where was the defense?
It was Hagelin’s second goal of the season. Too often this season, Hagelin hasn’t been noticeable. The Penguins need more from the swift Swede.
7. Ryan Reaves easily won a first period fight with Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian. The fight was not necessary for the Penguins who had control of the game. Reaves also blocked a shot in the slot by Jack Eichel, midway through the third period when the game was still in doubt.
It isn’t a coincidence; Reaves play has elevated with a better center on the fourth line. If his play is truly good enough to maintain a lineup presence will be debated, unfortunately, in the shadow of the fighting debate. Fighting shouldn’t determine Reaves position in the lineup. His 5v5 play should.
8. Evgeni Malkin would be a great storyteller. He described Kessel calling for the puck in the two-on-one which Malkin converted. “He kept calling, look, look, look. I looked. There was no chance to pass, so at the last second I looked at the net.”
9. I wonder if confidence is an issue with Jarry.
Jarry made several high quality saves in important moments, including stoning Evander Kane on a breakaway with a toe save. 66 of 67 in two nights. He kept the Sabres hapless. If they converted on one or more of their opportunities, they would have had life. Instead, Jarry slammed the door and kept it closed.
Locker room Stuff: When Mike Sullivan talked about Tristan Jarry, he made several references to gaining confidence and proving to himself he is an NHL goaltender. “Everyone can see the talent.”
“It’s a great personal opportunity. As long as he stays focused and in the moment…,” Sullivan said.
I had a chance to chat with Jarry for a quick moment before the media scrum. A couple of small jokes about minor league food and bus rides (trust me, they’re brutal).
The overriding sense I got from Jarry tonight is a very humble guy, who isn’t 100% sure he belongs. That isn’t a knock. It is a stark contrast to Matt Murray, who never doubted and was blunt in the room. But, it isn’t a knock on Jarry.
Jarry will be a starter next season somewhere unless the Penguins decline trade offers this offseason. He’s the real thing.
10. Justin Schultz ran the power play a couple of times. He was able to set up and create chances. Kris Letang had more opportunities but didn’t run it with the same efficacy. There should be no shame in letting Schultz handle PP1. He is making $5.5 million this season.