So much for the defensive showdown this one seemed destined for heading in, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres exchanged a lot of 3-on-2 rushes and the Pens came out on top, holding on for a 5-4 win.
Scoring was started early when Tyler Kennedy broke up the ice and found a streaking Mark Letestu for a tap-in under a minute into the game for Letestu's first NHL goal. Undeterred, Buffalo took advantage of a Nick Johnson offensive zone penalty when Derek Roy got the puck after a botched effort by Brooks Orpik and beat Marc-Andre Fleury on a spinning effort. Less than a minute later Roy made a nice pass to Tomas Vanek who walked right in past Martin Skoula and Vanek showed his world class release beating Fleury over the shoulder.
Sidney Crosby made a poor pass that Buffalo quickly transitioned to a 3 on 2 and Tim Kennedy scored a nice goal off equally pretty passes from Clarke MacArthur and Mike Grier. That play seemed to awake the Penguins, Crosby would score a PP goal (against the #2 Pk in the league) when he took a pass from Alex Goligoski and drilled it by Ryan Miller. Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal teamed up for Staal's 13th of the season when Staal beat Miller to tie the game. Crosby put the Pens up to stay when Miller and rookie sensation Tyler Myers flubbed a routine pass and Crosby put the puck to the net faster than Miller could recover.
Crosby would complete his third hat trick of the season on a 4 on 4 goal. The refs seemed to call two weak penalties on the Pens in the game's final minutes, Jason Pominville converted to bring the gap to 5-4, but Fleury and the defense held on.
- Crosby was the man of the night; 5 shots, a hit, a blocked shot, a takeaway (2 giveaways) and a winner of 61% of his 18 faceoffs. In addition to the goals, he did a little bit of everything.
- Two hat tricks in four regular seasons by El Sid entering this year; and tonight is his 3rd of the season. He's on pace of 54 goals and has clearly added the missing piece (a dangerous shot) to his arsenal.
- Skoula played Vanek absolutely wrong and it would be his final shift in the game. It's officially back to the doghouse for him, and maybe this time he won't be getting out of it. Johnson would spend some time in Chateau Bow-wow as well after his early penalty.
- Pascal Dupuis was a +3 on the night and in all the right places as the right time....Check the replays and you'll see him right around the net on two of Crosby's goals. It was a solid night for Duper, even if quietly so.
- Kris Letang earned the second star of the game for his efforts: 24:34 in ice-time (picking up some of Skoula's slack), 2 assists, +3, 3 shots on net and 3 shots blocked. Great game for the young defenseman.
- Despite playing some of the best hockey of his career, Jordan Staal was held goal-less in 13 straight before finally getting a much deserved goal. Sure he got a little puck-luck to get it by Miller, but on a goalie that good you take what you're given.
- Speaking of the presumptive Team USA starting goalie; Miller's given up 8 goals in 81 minutes against the Penguins this season, easily his worst team this year in terms of GA, GAA and save percentage. Can't make American denizens too happy to watch #87 torch him.
- Fleury didn't have a night to remember, but it is something that he did make the key saves late to preserve the victory. This night almost had the feeling of an '80s Oilers game or '90s Pittsburgh game where Grant Fuhr/Tom Barrasso makes just enough stops to get the W for his high-powered team.
- The calls at the end were weak, at best. Sergei Gonchar got rung up on a trip, when the refs had generally been allowing such plays to unfold for the first 55 minutes of the night. Then Orpik gets a hold, when he did not hold. BO made himself look bad by taking a hand off his stick, refs call that a lot of times, but in his defensive play he did not change possession of the puck or deny a scoring chance...Tough to call that so late in a tight game, but what can you do.
Just like the Crosby steps up, pucks start flying in the net and the Penguins hang six on the league's second best defensive team (in terms of goals allowed so far). When the Pittsburgh offense hits their rhythm like that, it's something to behold and a two goal deficit was seemingly pretty easy for them to erase.
After the breakneck pace of playing 16 games in 31 days, the Penguins now get a welcomed breather in this compressed schedule. Four days of inaction before gearing up for five games in nine days in the rush to the Olympic break.