Buffalo is a team built in stablity. They've had Lindy Ruff as a coach since July 1997, an almost impossible for an NHL coach (consider that Dan Bylsma is the second longest tenured coach in the Atlantic Division, after just 10 months on the job). They play a hard, strong brand of hockey that all the players buy into, which shows since they're #1 in the East with just 74 goals allowed so far this year.
And Buffalo needed it tonight, as they just played and defeated Toronto last night and didn't have the services of their #1 goalie (Ryan Miller) and their #1 pure goal scorer (Thomas Vanek, injured) tonight. Even without Miller, their team defense shined and made Pittsburgh play their game in their building, which the Pens were able to hang in there for 65 minutes.
Jason Pominville opened the scoring with a wrister from in close that Marc-Andre Fleury had no chance on. Chris Kunitz would convert late in the first period to tie it up 1-1 on a seeing-eye puck that Buffalo backup Patrick Lalime had no chance on. Beyond that, the goalies and defenses would not be cracked until the shootout. Plenty of chances abounded for both sides, but they either missed the net or were answered by the goalies.
As I mentioned in the last recap: the Pens shootout specialists in Fleury, Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby give them such a huge advantage in skill and confidence right now. It showed once again, as Pittsburgh improves to a perfect 6-0 in games decided after 65 minutes. Letang (3 for 6, 3 game deciding goals on the year) made no mistake smoothly going backhand to open thing up. Crosby didn't score (now 5 for 6) even though the puck probably did end up in the net under Lalime. No matter Fleury was perfect going 3-3 in stops (he's now 12 for 13 on the season).
- The Penguins story of the game is missing the net. They only got 24 shots on goal, with 20 shots blocked and 19 more missing target. Patty Lalime was playing like it was 1996 all over again, but with 19 misses (several near misses for what would have been goals), it didn't help Pittsburgh's cause.
- Evgeni Malkin's penalty woes (that we touched upon in the last recap) continue. He took a lazy tripping penalty 1:49 into the 3rd period and then when that expired, he played the puck when the door swung open, before he left the box, getting an interference penalty. Pensburgh reader JustinM looked it up and found this is as little known rule, 56.2 in the official NHL rulebook. Learn something new every day.
- Malkin also singlehandedly missed 7 shots on goal. His sights were just a little off. It seems like he's in a little of a rut right now, but more importantly he's working to get his chances. Once players that skilled get chances, eventually they start to go in the net.
- Fleury is now 10-1-1 in his last 12 games; giving up two or fewer goals in 10 of those games, with an outstanding save percentage of .929 in this stretch. He's seeing the puck and making some amazing stops.
- Mark Eaton went down with an apparent lower body injury in the 2nd period when he crashed into the boards after defending Mike Grier. Alex Goligoski (24:00 played) and Sergei Gonchar (27:08) picked up a lot of the burden for Eaton. We wait to hear an update on his status.
- The Pens power-play went 0 for 5 but they showed great puck movement and got some great looks. It was a case of "a lot of swedish, not much finish", as they just couldn't put it home. But the new design is working.
- Buffalo's power-play, for their part, is 1 for their last 23, including 0 for 8 tonight which had a significant 5-on-3 advantage. That they couldn't convert was a key in the game too -- which you have to credit the Pittsburgh PK'ers and Fleury for holding it down.
- Paul Gaustad has GOT to make Team USA for the upcoming Olympics. He played 23:24 tonight with a shot on goal, a hit, 2 takeaways, 1 giveaway, 1 blocked shot and won 16 of 25 faceoffs, and a lot of them were won very cleanly.
- As an aside, the home team chooses if they want to shoot first or second, and they almost always decide to shoot first, leaving the visitors to shoot second --potentially placing a lot of pressure on them if the initial shot scores. This is just the opposite of a baseball game, where the home team bats second. It just struck me as odd that it's two polar opposites.
On the road, you take what you can get and the Pens use their specialists to earn the extra point. They're up to 51 points, which keeps them on pace with New Jersey for tops in the division and conference. They mucked, grinded and played a game against a tough defensive team, and came out with the win. Guys like Fleury and Letang have to be flying high with confidence, with the only question mark being the health status of Eaton, which we'll surely give you updates in the near future as information becomes available.