Before we break everything down and get into the thick of things, an obvious caveat needs to be stated — it was the Penguins’ season opener. Flopping in Game 1 is by no means a cause to smash the panic button and set PPG Paints Arena on fire.
That being said, the Penguins did not look very good at all against the Buffalo Sabres last night, and given everything this team has gone through in the past three months, there is a legitimate cause to be concerned.
Apart from Evgeni Malkin’s showstopping, revenge tour-esque debut performance and Matt Murray’s excellent play between the pipes, the Penguins looked deflated, uninterested, and as if they didn’t really have a cohesive direction. At one point in the first period, the Sabres had a whopping 14-3 edge in shots on goal. In each frame, the lackluster offense produced Corsi For numbers of just 48, 34, and 37 percent respectively, averaging a lowly 42.55 percentage on the night. Kris Letang was the only Penguin that surpassed the 50th percentile mark.
Additionally, Pittsburgh tallied just three High Danger Chances For all game and did nothing to make goaltender Carter Hutton uncomfortable. There was never a single moment that the momentum shifted to the Penguins. Not even on the man advantage, in which Pittsburgh went 0-for-3 in the third period when they needed to make a rally. Buffalo tipped the ice and controlled play for the entire 60 minutes. The top line of Sidney Crosby (who might still be nursing that preseason injury), Jake Guentzel, and Patric Hornqvist put up just one shot on goal. And that’s merely scratching the surface.
What might be the most glaring part of their outing is how dreadfully similar it looked to their getting swept by the Islanders in Round 1 of the 2019 playoffs.
All summer long, the rhetoric surrounding the team was that of change. Shuffling in young, fresh faces and sending out old, familiar ones happened sporadically between the 170 days that passed since the Penguins’ shocking first round exit. They made it seem as if that embarrassing string of losses was completely behind them, and that if it were to present itself again, it would only be as method of lighting a fire underneath them.
Instead, we got a dud. Buffalo didn’t make any major changes during the offseason, but the Sabres still possess decent talent, and that talent ran all over the Penguins from the first puck drop to the final whistle. And, keep in mind, this is a Sabres team most preseason predictions didn’t have even sniffing the playoffs.
Malkin was especially upset after the game, and during the post-game scum, he did not mince his words.
“Exhibition games are done,” he said. “It’s real games right now. It’s for sure a wake-up call. We need to understand every team is dangerous right now. It doesn’t matter if it’s Buffalo or if it’s Washington. We need to learn from how we played tonight and play better. Like 100 percent better.”
He isn’t wrong.