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Aftermath: Sabres 4, Penguins 3

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
  
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QUICK ANALYSIS
 
The Penguins have been remarkable at coming from behind this season with 10 such victories. However, they’ve also been prone to letting leads slip away. That distinction caught up with them again as a 3-1 lead turned into a 4-3 loss to Buffalo.

The turning point occurred in the second period when the Penguins failed to convert on a two-minute five-on-three advantage. Pittsburgh led 3-2 at the time and had a chance to gain some momentum and create some separation. Instead, the Sabres stole the momentum and tied the game minutes later.

With all due respect to the Sabres, who boast the third best penalty killing success rate in the NHL, Pittsburgh let this game slip away by not cashing in on those opportunities. Pittsburgh also had two third-period power plays while trailing, 4-3, but couldn’t convert to tie the game on either occasion.
 
WHAT HAPPENED
 
(AP) -Thomas Vanek's go-ahead goal, his NHL-best 20th of the season, completed a rally from two goals down and gave the Buffalo Sabres a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night.

Derek Roy, Ales Kotalik and Daniel Paille also scored for the Sabres, who have won two in a row after snapping out of a stretch of losing eight of 10.

Ruslan Fedotenko had two goals and Evgeni Malkin two assists for Pittsburgh, which has lost consecutive games for the first time since Oct. 28-30.

Vanek's goal was a tap-in of a pass from Jason Pominville while he stood in the low left slot 6:13 into the third period. He is the first player to get to 20 goals this season - Philadelphia's Jeff Carter has 19 - doing so in his 27th game.

The Penguins were only 1-for-8 on the power play, and the one goal came during a 5-on-3.

The lone power play goal of the game was Kris Letang's first such in 82 games. Also his first goal in 37 contests overall, Letang converted a set up by Sidney Crosby while in the slot, extending Crosby's point streak to seven games.
 
SHOT OF THE NIGHT

Sidney Crosby uses his body to protect the puck against Buffalo (photo by Getty)
ESSENTIALS
 
What Worked: Use of Defensemen
Pittsburgh utilized its defensemen in the offensive zone really well. When the Penguins were pressuring and had nowhere to go with the puck, they simply sent it to their blue liners, who would then either take a shot or keep it in the zone. The maneuver allowed Pittsburgh to rack up a lot of offensive possession time in the first period and late in the third, as well as creating scoring chances.

What Didn't Work: Power Play
The Penguins had three five-on-three opportunities in the game and only scored on one of them. Pittsburgh had a chance to create separation with a full two minutes worth of a five-on-three in the second period. The Penguins didn’t score there and a few minutes later the game was tied. The Penguins went 1 for 8 with the man-advantage. 
 
DIFFERENCE MAKER
 
Ruslan Fedotenko may have been the beneficiary of great setups from Evgeni Malkin but he did finish those chances by putting the puck in the net. Fedotenko was in the right place at the right time twice for the Penguins to notch his first multi-goal game (two goals) in a Penguins jersey. On both occasions, the Ukraine native nailed one-timers from the slot to record his sixth and seventh goals of the campaign. His second goal was also the 250th point of his career.
 
INTRIGUING NOTABLES
 
The Penguins failed to convert on a two-minute five-on-three opportunity midway through the second period. Pittsburgh had several great chances but couldn’t bury the puck. Buffalo’s Ryan Miller made a couple of great saves while other shots were blocked by the Sabres. Pittsburgh led 3-2 at the time. Shortly after, the Sabres tied the game. That chance was the turning point in the game.

Evgeni Malkin flashed his skills with a sick move that led to the game’s opening goal. Malkin pulled the puck through his legs and then sent a backhand, cross-ice feed through three players and right to Ruslan Fedotenko, who buried his sixth goal of the year.

Buffalo used a Pittsburgh turnover to tie the game. Brooks Orpik skated the puck out of the Penguins zone when his pass was picked off by Derek Roy. Roy entered the zone on a two-on-one. Kris Letang, the lone Penguin back, dropped to the ice to eliminate the pass. Roy then sent a shot far side behind Dany Sabourin.

Ben Lovejoy made a great defensive play in his NHL debut. The Sabres had a two-on-one with Lovejoy as the only man back. He stayed on his feet and intercepted the crossing pass to eliminate the opportunity.

Fedotenko struck gold again with his second goal of the game on a tic-tac-toe, bang-bang play. Fedotenko was setup beside the near circle. Malkin was at the far circle and Petr Sykora had the puck behind the Sabres goal. Sykora passed to Malkin, who sent a shot-pass across to Fedotenko. The Ukraine native buried a one-timer for his second goal of the game. It was also, coincidentally his 250th career point.

The Penguins got their first five-on-three opportunity for the final 22 seconds of the first period when Thomas Vanek was called for a delay of game while killing a penalty. Vanek battled with fellow Gopher Alex Goligoski. Vanek fell on the puck in the Pittsburgh zone and wouldn’t get up.

Sykora nearly capitalized on the five-on-three with under 10 seconds left. Malkin took a shot from the point and Sykora grabbed the rebound. He had an open net but was positioned on his off wing. His shot hit the side of the net.

Letang saw action on the top power-play unit and then ended his goal-scoring drought at 36 games (52 including playoffs) with a beautiful one-timer. Letang started the play by entering the zone and dropping the puck to Crosby. He then stationed himself in the high slot opposite Crosby. The Penguins captain sent a hard pass through the heart of the Buffalo triangle that Letang drilled for the score.

Ales Kotalik notched his seventh goal of the year on the doorstep. Adam Mair sent a shot on net that Sabourin stopped. Sabourin lost sight of where the puck went and looked into the goal. The puck died right in front of him in the crease. Kotalik tapped it in to make it a one-goal game.

Not scoring on that crucial five-on-three in the second period came back to bite the Penguins when Buffalo’s Daniel Paille tied the game, 3-3, with his third goal of the season. After a shot was deflected, the puck sat on the goal line. Pittsburgh knocked it out but right to Paille. The youngster nailed his third goal of the year.

Lovejoy may be a rookie but he knows his role. A shoving match broke out between Malkin and Clarke MacArthur near the end of the second period. Lovejoy intervened to protect the Russian star and got in MacArthur's face.

The Penguins survived the end of the second period. After Buffalo tied the game, the Sabres were in control the rest of the frame. Pittsburgh couldn’t clear the zone, couldn’t mount any offensive pressure and were running into each other. The Sabres had a power play for the final 1:39 and had great opportunities. Sabourin made several key saves but it was obvious the Penguins needed the intermission to regroup.

Satan nearly scored a goal against his former team. He had the puck in the slot. He skated in and put a move on Miller. Satan then tried to juke around Miller but the Buffalo backstop barely got his glove on the sliding puck.

The Sabres took their first lead of the game on Thomas Vanek’s league-leading 20th goal of the season. The Penguins were bringing the puck out of their zone and turned the puck over with four Penguins trapped up ice. Jason Pominville skated in on goal as Vanek sneaked to the backside. Pominville sent a pass over that Vanek deposited for a 4-3 Buffalo lead.

Both teams exchanged blows as the final horn expired. Pittsburgh had a great chance with a shot from the slot, only to be stopped by Miller. The frustration topped over and will linger until the Penguins can get another crack at the Sabres.
 
GAME NOTES
 
> Pittsburgh dropped to 15-8-4 on the year, with a 7-3-2 mark at Mellon Arena. Pittsburgh is 10-4-2 in its last 16 games.

> Ruslan Fedotenko gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 9:37 of the first period. Derek Roy tied the game with his eighth goal of the season 11:07 into the opening frame. Fedotenko regained the lead for Pittsburgh, 2-1, with his second goal of the game. The Penguins took a 3-1 lead with Kris Letang’s first goal of the year on a five-on-three advantage. Ales Kotalik cut the lead to 3-2 with his seventh goal of the year. Daniel Paille’s third goal of the season tied the game at 3-3. Thomas Vanek scored the game-winning goal when he notched his 20th of the season at 6:13 of the third period.

> Pittsburgh outshot Buffalo by a 32-29 margin. Pittsburgh has only been outshot four times in its past 16 games.

> Malkin recorded two assists against Buffalo to increase his NHL lead in points with 45 (11G-34A). Malkin’s 34 assists are also a league best. Malkin is on pace for a 100-assist season (103). Only three players in NHL history have recorded 100-assist seasons (Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzkey and Bobby Orr). Malkin has four goals and 10 assists for 14 points in his last seven games.

> Crosby recorded an assist against the Sabres. Crosby climbed the rankings and is now second in the league in scoring with 41 points (13G-28A). His 28 assists are second most in the league, behind only teammate Malkin’s 34. Crosby has six goals and 10 assists for 16 points in his past seven games.

> The Penguins have the top two scorers in the NHL in Malkin (11+34=45) and Crosby (13+28=41). The last time Pittsburgh had the top two scorers in the league was the 1995-96 season when Mario Lemieux (first) and Jaromir Jagr (second) topped the NHL. The team also had that distinction when Lemieux (first) and Kevin Stevens (second) did it in 1991-92.

> Dany Sabourin made 25 saves in the losing effort against the Sabres. He’s 5-3-2 in his past 11 starts (with one no decision).

> Fedotenko scored two goals in the game for his sixth and seventh scores on the season. It was his first multi-goal game as a Penguin and he notched his 250th career point on the second goal. Fedotenko has three goals in his last three games.

> Letang scored his first goal in 37 games (53 including playoffs) with a power-play goal. He has 11 points on the season.

> Mellon Arena sold out for the 79th straight game with a standing room only attendance of 16,976.

> Former Penguin Pete Mahovlich was at Mellon Arena for the game. He was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 1977-9 seasons, scoring 39 goals and 75 assists for 114 points in 117 games for the team. He also was a member of the Pittsburgh Hornets of the AHL in 1966-67. Mahovlich is currently a pro scout for the Atlanta Thrashers. Pittsburgh plays the Thrashers Dec. 18.
 
THREE STARS QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
   
1. Derek Roy, BUF
2. Ruslan Fedotenko, PIT
3. Thomas Vanek, BUF
“We weren’t playing that bad until we got the lead, 3-1.
After that, we were horrible. We gave them the game.”
- Head coach Michel Therrien

 

 


Author: Sam Kasan

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