The Penguins completely outplayed the Buffalo Sabres in their meeting on Saturday night at CONSOL Energy Center, skating to a 4-1 win. With their season-opening victory on Thursday against New Jersey, the Penguins have now won their first two home games in a season for the first time since 1995.
The Sabres played just 24 hours earlier on Friday night against Ottawa, and their fatigue showed. And the Penguins were flying and looked to be skating circles around the tired Sabres – attacking with speed. Pittsburgh had puck possession for the majority of the game and when they didn’t have the rubber disc, they forced Buffalo to continually turn it over with suffocating defense.
The Penguins spent a lot of time in the offensive zone and played structured team defense when they weren’t there, allowing goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to face just 21 shots in the game. He came within five minutes of collecting his second straight shutout, but his effort was negated by a Thomas Vanek goal late in the third.
“I can't say bad words,” Fleury joked after the game about losing the shutout. “As a goalie it's always something you'd like to do. I don't want to be selfish about it. We got a big win and that's all that matters.”
On the other end, the score could have been a lot worse than 4-1 if it wasn’t for the play of Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth – who stopped 30 shots in the losing effort.
“We had some great chances; he made some big saves,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “He had some help from a post and a crossbar too, so we liked our chances. If we keep getting those opportunities, we didn’t allow a lot of shots against, too. It’s a big thing. It would have been nice to keep it at no score there, but that was a nice goal by Vanek and we’ll keep trying to keep pucks out of our net.”
Crosby, Chuck Kobasew, Chris Kunitz and Craig Adams all scored for the Penguins.
The Penguins, as a group, gave the Sabres NOTHING in this game. Buffalo had just 14 shots through two periods and 21 overall. Fleury was nearly unbeatable in goal, the six defensemen in front of him – Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi, Matt Niskanen, Robert Bortuzzo and Olli Maatta – executed exactly what they needed to do and the forwards did what they had to do in terms of helping them out.
“We did a pretty good job and our D were really aggressive,” Crosby said of Pittsburgh’s defense tonight. “It seemed like their gap was good, they had a lot of sticks on pucks and made it tough coming through the neutral zone. So when you do that, it’s hard to get a lot of offense created. It’s frustrating. We’ve been on the other side of that before too, so it’s nice to see that we’re able to clog the neutral zone up a little bit more and it’s something we’ll try to continue to do.”
Pittsburgh’s stinginess tonight alone would be enough to get excited about. But considering Thursday’s shutout, the Penguins have allowed just one goal in their first two games – and Crosby said their defensive play has been what’s impressed him the most about their 2-0 start to the season.
“I think we’re pretty good as far as our structure defensively,” he said. “I think that’s usually something that takes a little bit more time, but I think we’ve looked pretty comfortable with the way we need to play defensively and our D have done a really, really good job of keeping a good gap and our forwards have come back hard. But I think just as a whole, as a group, from ‘Flower’ right on out, we’ve been really solid defensively.”
The first period of Saturday’s game for the Penguins felt virtually identical to the first period of their season opener on Thursday against New Jersey.
The Penguins carried 2-0 leads into the first intermission of both games, with Chuck Kobasew and Sidney Crosby scoring those goals both nights – putting the two Penguins on pace for 82-goal seasons.
Another Penguin on an 82-goal pace is forward Craig Adams, who scored an empty-netter with less than two minutes in Saturday’s game to cushion Pittsburgh’s lead. He got that one after scoring a beauty off an Evgeni Malkin feed against the Devils.
MALKIN IN THE MIDDLE
Evgeni Malkin’s usual right winger James Neal is sidelined with an upper-body injury that coach Dan Bylsma characterized as more week-to-week than day-to-day.
With Neal out, Beau Bennett slotted into his spot with Jussi Jokinen playing the left wing during morning skate. Malkin didn’t skate regular shifts with them in the first period, skating with a rotating cast of wingers throughout the first 20 minutes, but took much more consistent shifts with Jokinen and Bennett in the second and third.
The three of them combined for a few gorgeous chances, including one just 1:17 into the second that looked like a sure goal. Bennett dropped a pass to Malkin in the slot at the top of the circles, who absolutely ripped one at goalie Jhonas Enroth that rang off the inside of the post and out.
Before Saturday, the last Penguins penalty shot came on March 17, 2012 – when New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur saved Chris Kunitz’s attempt. Over a year and a half later, Kunitz got another penalty shot opportunity when he was bearhugged on a breakaway in the third period of Pittsburgh’s game against the Sabres, and this time he didn’t miss.
Kunitz started by swinging wide, then cut to the middle and did his traditional leg kick/head fake before going to his backhand and lifting a shot over Enroth – putting the Penguins up 3-0.
We saw a penalty shot in Pittsburgh’s first game as well, when the Devils’ Adam Henrique was stopped by Marc-Andre Fleury on Thursday.
SID IN THE DOT
In addition to earning a mark in the goal column on Saturday, there was another area of the scoresheet Sidney Crosby was very noticeable in – faceoffs.
Crosby took a staggering 18 draws in the first period alone – while the rest of his teammates combined for seven. He had taken 41 faceoffs by the end of the game, winning 24 of those for a 59 percent success rate – surpassing his previous single-game career high of 36 taken Oct. 23, 2009 against Florida.
Crosby said after the game it had nothing to do with having a hot hand and everything to do with the numerous stoppages.
“(It was) all the whistles,” he said. “It was just one of those games where there’s a lot of whistles and you get a lot of faceoffs and I ended up taking some. I didn’t realize it was that many; I think it was just so many stoppages kind of allowed for more than usual.”
It was playoff-loud inside CONSOL Energy Center on Saturday night when members of the Pittsburgh Pirates were shown on the video board at the Penguins game – fitting, as the Buccos are battling the St. Louis Cardinals in a National League Divisional Series.
Pirates in attendance included Andrew McCutchen, Russell Martin, Michael McKenry, Clint Barmes, Gerrit Cole, Justin Morneau, Garrett Jones, Travis Snider, Tony Watson, Jeff Karstens and Tony Sanchez.
The team received an absolutely thunderous, lengthy and chills-inducing standing ovation from the 18,000-plus fans in attendance, followed by chants of “Let's Go Bucs.”
“It was great,” said Crosby of the standing ovation. “We’re happy to see them here and we’ll all be watching tomorrow. So we wish them the best of luck. Nice to see them here.”
Photos, video and more here.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo