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RECAP: Penguins start sluggish in 3-1 loss to Buffalo in season opener

It was a start to forget for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who didn’t play well and lost to the Buffalo Sabres

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports


Welcome to the 2019-20 season. So, the Penguins are really going to try and make Jack Johnson happen still, huh? Ehh, let’s get to it.

The Sabres will roll out like this, calling up youngsters Victor Olofsson and Henri Jokiharju up since the preview was written to be in the lineup for this game.

First period

The players get introduced and we’re off. The Pens start the game fairly sluggishly, Buffalo records six of the first seven shots on goal of the contest.

And Buffalo strikes first before the first television timeout. Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist bump into each other along the wall in the d-zone after Brian Dumoulin meekly plays the puck up the wall. The forwards fail to corral a puck that ends up on Conor Sheary’s stick. Sheary quickly releases a shot far-side on Matt Murray that hits the net. 1-0 early Buffalo.

Buffalo keeps pouring on the shots with Erik Gudbranson twice reversing the puck to no one in particular that gets picked off and Jack Johnson roving around without apparent destination that almost allows a goal on a 3-on-2 rush against.

Pittsburgh earns the game’s first power play, but it’s Buffalo that has the only memorable moment when Zemgus Girgensons is sprung on a breakaway after Justin Schultz over-skates the puck. Luckily, Murray makes a great save extending his leg after Girgensons’ deking effort.

The Pens regroup a bit as the period goes on, the Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Tanev and Evgeni Malkin line is definitely the best Pittsburgh line early in the game, particularly the latter two making plays and being very visible in positive ways all over the ice.

Murray also is sharp stopping 15/16 Buffalo shots of the period. The Pens end up with 13 shots on the period, 5v5 shots on goal are 15-11 BUF after one.

Second period

Pittsburgh gets a second power play when Dumoulin jumps into the play and shoots low to the net. Tanev drives hard to the net and forces a Sabre to hold him. It only takes Malkin 26 seconds on the PP to record Pittsburgh’s first goal of the season.

Nice play by Patric Hornqvist to screen Carter Hutton and Malkin just rips one short side on the goalie who never picked up the puck.

Midway through the period, it’s Buffalo’s turn for their first power play of the game after Marcus Pettersson’s stick gets high and clips Kyle Okposo in the face.

Opening PK combos, if you’re keeping track:

53-46; 8/58

27-13; 3/44

59-12; 8/58

Buffalo doesn’t do much with the man advantage, but after the power play they keep the pressure up and force Dumoulin to take a second Pittsburgh penalty.

This time, however, the Sabres strike. Gudbranson can’t clear a puck and then eventually a point shot is thrown in that again Gudbranson in front of the net doesn’t get to before Casey Mittelstadt can hack the puck over to...Conor Sheary again who flips the puck into the net to re-establish the Buffalo lead at 2-1.

In the last minute of the period, Buffalo strikes again for the ever-critical final minute goal. Dumoulin is caught in the offensive zone trying to hold a puck and Teddy Blueger just stops skating with Rasmus Dahlin for some reason. Dahlin is fed the puck by Sam Reinhart and the 19-year old defenseman makes a nice move to flip the puck past Murray and make it 3-1 after 40 minutes.

Shots overall in the second period were 13-5 Buffalo. 5v5 shots were 8-3 BUF in the period. Overall through two periods Buffalo was out-shooting the Pens by a total of 30-18.

A very telling metric: 5v5 scoring chances through two per Natural Stat Trick; 20-11 Buffalo. High danger scoring chances? A whopping 8-1 BUF. That’s just unacceptable, the Pens were getting almost nothing going at even strength and pinned in their own end far too much.

Third period

The Sabres’ efforts to make long stretch passes to spring players on breakaways continue as Kyle Okposo slips past Schultz for a breakaway shot early on Murray that is turned away.

Jack Johnson gets a shot blocked, can’t track with his guy who gets sprung on a breakaway but Murray again bails them out.

The Pens get a third power play in the game due to an interference call Buffalo takes in the offensive zone. They do absolutely nothing with it and the first group barely gets in the zone.

But then they go back to the power play again almost immediately...And again they do very little with it until the dying seconds when Jared McCann gets a decent look at the net but can’t lift the puck enough to score.

The comedy of errors continues when Crosby centers a puck for Pettersson in the defensive zone. It’s a hard pass, but not handled and it deflects off Pettersson to a Sabre who shoots on Murray. Only the nob of the stick saves it from being 4-1.

Hornqvist gets high-sticked so the Pens go to a power play late. They pull their goalie to make it a 6v4 advantage, but can’t get anything to go.

Shots in the third are 11-9 BUF, and end 41-27 for them on the night. Yuck. 5v5 shots are 30-19. 5v5 scoring chances end up in a 2-to-1 edge 30-15 BUF. High danger scoring chances at 5v5 ended up 11-1 Sabres.

Some Thoughts

  • A completely uninspiring start to the game, which is pretty troubling. The Pens looked pretty much like the pessimist’s warning: mostly slow and ineffective on the blueline causing a lot of problems exiting the zone, less skilled overall than they were last year, still giving up short handed breakaways against, not looking all that cohesive or invested.
  • One of Brandon Tanev’s better qualities is that he drew a lot of penalties last season in Winnipeg. That was on display tonight for the Pens, going to the net hard early in the second period and sending a Sabre player to the box after forcing him to hold. Then his linemate Malkin turned it into a goal. Well done all around.
  • (Tanev also drew TWO more of the Pens’ power plays in the third period too.)
  • Speaking of, that first goal might have been THE perfect Pens power play goal. Malkin scores, Letang and Crosby figure in on the assist. And the whole thing is generated because Hornqvist is doing the dirty work in front of the net.
  • The Pens have changed the goal celebration song from Andrew WK’s “Party Hard” to House of Pain’s “Jump around”. This surprise move was almost universally panned on social media, and for good reason.
  • One of Marcus Pettersson’s less better qualities is taking a lot of penalties. His stick jumped up and hit Kyle Okposo in the face and hopefully that’s not a sign of things to come.
  • To go along with the Pettersson critique, let’s also point out the Dumoulin-Letang pair was on the ice for the first two goals against. While fans on the internet always love to zero in on assigning blame to which player is responsible for which goals (present company included), without doing that neither were sharp.
  • And if the Pens’ top pair isn’t sharp, they’re not going to have much hope. The other two pairs were as limited as to be expected.
  • Pittsburgh really didn’t make life hard enough on Carter Hutton. Can’t even remember him having to make a nice save. Maybe one flashing a little bit of glove on Malkin, early Jared McCann had a good look late on the power play. But overall, just not enough pressure.
  • Conversely, Murray was under assault all night, frequently with his defense conceding a ton off odd man rushes against. No matter the pairs or the forwards, it was all the same in terms of getting burned pretty consistently.

Well, the best thing about that start is it’s over. The Pens don’t give much hope or excitement based off this effort tonight, but it is just one game. While the takes will be spicy after a poor outing, especially considering many of the problems on display tonight have been long feared, it is just one game for right now. Chance to get right back at it on home in less than 48 hours on Saturday night.