About an hour before puck drop vs. the Sabres, Jim Rutherford and the Penguins announced that they hired Hall of Famer and former GM Chris Patrick to serve as a pro scout for the team. This is a stellar move by the organization, as there aren’t many people who mean more to the franchise and its history than he.
Patrick is well-known for bringing three of the Penguins’ best and most important players to town in Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Kris Letang in subsequent NHL Drafts. He also was responsible for drafting 10 of the 23 players who ultimately went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2009, so his knowledge, decision making, and experience to the team’s scouting group will undoubtedly help in finding fresh, young talent. Oh, he also helped Herb Brooks coach the team that beat the Soviets at Lake Placid too, so there’s that.
A few notables regarding the roster: Matt Cullen is reportedly going to be out for a decent amount of time and is said to have suffered a lower-body injury, and Crosby is still out and considered day-to-day with an upper-body ailment. Matt Murray got the hook, and Casey DeSmith gets the nod in net.
Let's play some hockey. pic.twitter.com/KMeucjJApW— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 19, 2018
It seemed like the Penguins had a million Grade A chances to score in the opening 10 minutes of the first, but they couldn’t for the life of them find twine or stun Buffalo netminder Carter Hutton. That was until Derick “Big Game Brass” Brassard finally figured out what Hutton’s kryptonite was, scoring on a 2-on-1 with 11:14 remaining.
Through the neutral zone.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 20, 2018
Through the defense.
AND IN THE NET! pic.twitter.com/DkMct0EVtx
But after the Penguins couldn’t get out of their own zone, led by a pretty bad defensive sequence by Dominik Simon, Tage Thompson ripped a one-timer, his first of the season, over DeSmith’s should to tie things at 1-1.
The top line of Pearson-Malkin-Kessel put together a gorgeous three-way, tic-tac-toe sequence to re-gain the Penguins’ one-goal lead. Pearson had a really solid game, and it was evident he’d end up on the score sheet initially with his nearly-perfect looking early shots that got blocked away. His hard pass to Kessel that fit through an impossible-looking position at Hutton’s left pad was a thing of beauty.
Phil Kessel makes his youth coaches proud by going to the net.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 20, 2018
That is 81's team-leading 10th goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/jS55mtB4qR
Pittsburgh entered the locker room with a 2-1 advantage on the scoreboard, a 15-9 advantage in shots on goal, a 13-6 advantage in hits, and a 12-10 advantage in faceoffs won. Not too shabby.
A minute and a half into the second period, Jake Guentzel sprung on the breakaway (after an obvious, uncalled high-stick on Brassard in his own zone) and buried his own rebound to make it 3-1. The Sabres tried to challenge for goaltender interference, but well, there wasn’t any evidence of it, as the refs eventually confirmed.
Attempt 1:— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 20, 2018
Sticktuitiveness at its finest. pic.twitter.com/zFFmQ9NwtW
Tanner Pearson had a hell of a game and a highlight reel night, chipping a backhand try past Hutton after getting to his favorite spot on the ice yet again to grow the Penguins’ lead to 4-1. The new guy is really making a name for himself. His play is exactly what Pittsburgh was missing.
Then, things really opened up. Some very questionable no-calls started racking up, including a tomahawk chop to the back of Malkin’s neck (that one did eventually get called).
This is one painful sequence... pic.twitter.com/P4cYJElGSP— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) November 20, 2018
That gifted the Pens with a 5-on-3 opportunity that featured Kessel getting absolutely robbed by Hutton’s big toe. After getting back to full-strength, the Sabres showed a little bit of life, as Jeff Skinner, in his 600th NHL game, set up Zach Bogosian for a rocket one-timer from the left circle.
Bogo Blast— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) November 20, 2018
to Skinner & Eichel pic.twitter.com/luJlnwFTlN
The Penguins then let the monster named “Fall Apart in the End of the Second Period” out of the closet and allowed the Sabres to circle in the attacking zone, forecheck hard, keep the puck in, and chip away at the lead once more — this time off the stick of Casey Nelson, also his first of the year, from 30 feet out.
Casey Nelson first goal of the season— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) November 20, 2018
4-3 Pittsburgh pic.twitter.com/5SM1YIpJro
The middle frame ended with a 4-3 score. At least Pittsburgh tallied 31 shots through two — the most after two periods in their last 35 regular season games.
Guentzel and Brassard started off the period hot, but in about 10 seconds that included Guentzel whiffing on a wide-open shot right in the crease and Brassard taking a dumb slashing penalty in the attacking zone, things turned pretty ugly from there. Once again, Pittsburgh got pinned in its own zone, struggled to clear the puck over the blue line time after time, and the Sabres, once again, took full advantage of the Penguins spinning in circles. Casey Mittelstadt launched a wrister top-shelf over DeSmith and tied the game at 4.
Malkin looked lost, DeSmith couldn’t make the save after getting a piece of it, and Jack Eichel wins it 5-4 with a dribbler. So it goes.
- I’m not a ref by any capacity, but I literally had no idea what was or wasn’t a penalty in this game. Dangerous plays (and worse, injuries) are a result of this, and we saw two pretty bad hits happen to Zach Aston-Reese and Evgeni Malkin early on in the contest.
- Pearson is already becoming a fan favorite with his dedication to getting to the dirty areas and making some noise. He had a goal and an assist, plus a plethora of SOG chances collected in the high-danger areas. He has looked pretty damn good in his first few games as a Penguin.
- I don’t know if it was the losing streak hovering over them or continued pressure from the front office, but all four lines for the Penguins looked pretty sharp tonight* — including the bottom defensive pairs. Here and there you’d see some questionable decisions made in the defensive zone that left the slot open, but otherwise, it was a night-and-day difference.
- *This lasted until about halfway through the second. Again. Ugh.
- Piggybacking off of that prior point, where does that leave Matt Cullen? Is it just a coincidence that they played better without the 42-year-old in the lineup, or is his “longer term” injury simply addition by subtraction?
- The Penguins really do need to figure out what’s ailing them in the second half of the second period though. They’ve allowed their opponents to come back after being down two, three-plus goals on more than one occasion this season — even after playing exceptionally to start the game. Constantly going to the dump and chase method with a big lead doesn’t work. This isn’t a secret. It’s wrecking their record, and it’s incredibly frustrating. Got to keep the foot on the gas.
- Tonight’s dud is the Pens’ ninth loss in 10 games. They’ve lost consecutive games against the Senators and Sabres (who now have a six-game win streak). Take that as you will.