Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' 4-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center.
* After breaking their six-game losing streak with a 7-3 win over Ottawa on Tuesday, the Penguins were adamant that they needed to continue to build on that. Fortunately, they were able to do so, stringing a couple of wins together for the first time since they had three in a row from Feb. 14-18.
"We played pretty well tonight and last game we did too, so we're going in the right direction and that's all that matters," Matt Murray said. "We just want to keep building."
It wasn't their most consistent effort. After a strong first period, they struggled in the second - and if it wasn't for some phenomenal goaltending from Murray (more on that below), it could have been a different story. But Murray kept them in the game, and the Penguins took over in the final frame.
"I think how we responded in the third period was huge," Patric Hornqvist said. "We didn't have a great second, but we came back in the third and played a really hard, solid team effort. That's what it's going to come down to here down the stretch. Work for each other and we can have some bad shifts once in a while, but just stay with our process and trust each other and we'll be fine.
* I thought Murray was the Penguins' best player tonight. While he saw a decent amount of action in the first period, the Penguins outshot the Sabres 16-9 and carried more of the play. But Murray had to be brilliant in the second period as Buffalo completely tilted the ice in their favor. They were playing fast, playing hard and winning puck battles.
As a result, Murray had to come up with huge save after huge save, with one stretch towards the halfway point of the period particularly standing out. He stopped Jimmy Vesey on a 2-on-0 and then thwarted the Sabres forward again before stopping Johan Larsson on a point-blank chance from the hashmarks.
"He was huge," Hornqvist said. "They had probably 3-4 odd-man rushes and breakaways. He made a few really big stops for us. That's why he's there. He's been great."
Thanks in large part to Murray, the Penguins were able to weather that storm and eventually take a 3-1 lead instead of having the Sabres tie it 2-2. Murray continued to come up with clutch and timely saves throughout the course of the night.
"I thought he was real good, especially in the second and third," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He made some big saves for us down the stretch. In the second period, where I didn't think we were at our best, Matt was really good."
It was the second win in a row for Murray after making 23 stops against the Senators. For the past month, the Penguins have been alternating their goalies every game. They've been so fortunate to be able to count on both Murray and Tristan Jarry to win on any given night.
But tonight, they decided to give Murray consecutive starts for the first time since Feb. 2 and 6. Sullivan has such a remarkable instinct for knowing which netminder to go with on a given night, and he was proven right yet again this evening.
* There's something about the Sabres that just gets Hornqvist going.
He had two goals tonight to give him points in eight of his last nine games against the Sabres (7G-6A-14PTS), which includes four multi-point efforts. His points-per-game average against Buffalo is his highest versus any one team.
Both tallies came in typical Hornqvist fashion - driving to the net. The 33-year-old forward now has 17 goals on the season.
Hornqvist is the heart and soul of this team, which was especially evident with the leadership he showed during the team's losing streak, both on and off the ice. It's great to see him get rewarded in a big win.
"It's great," Sullivan said. "Our guys really root for him. He's such an emotional leader on our team. I've never been around a guy that has as much energy as Horny does. He's always vocal on the bench. He's vocal in-between periods. He's just a great teammate. When he scores a couple goals the way he does - and they're always second-effort goals, they're never easy ones, they're never just tap-ins - he's taking a beating in order to score. That's just the nature of his game. I think our players really root for him."
*The Penguins are inching closer and closer to full health. After getting Brian Dumoulin and John Marino back for the last game, Nick Bjugstad returned to game action for the first time since Nov. 15. Despite missing so much time, he turned in a solid performance, assisting on Hornqvist's first goal.
"I thought he had a good game," Sullivan said. "It's not easy when you miss that much time to step into an NHL game at this time of year with the type of intensity that's out there. I thought he did a real good job."
* I really liked how the line of Patrick Marleau, Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust looked tonight. They were buzzing around out there and it feels like only a matter of time before they break out in a big way on the scoresheet. There was one shift in the first period where they had a handful of scoring chances, and they helped set up Marcus Pettersson's goal, which was the second of the game.