Dominik Kahun is on the ice for pre-game warmups but isn’t able to be in the game lineup. Tristan Jarry’s turn in net. And four RHD as Juuso Riikola makes way for Zach Trotman for...reasons.
The Penguins use the Evgeni Malkin line to start a period instead of it being Sidney Crosby like typical and it doesn’t pay off as the Sabres score just 14 seconds into the period on a bang bang play. Malkin hacks at the puck to help clear it but Kyle Okposo gets a lucky break to cut it off that the puck lays perfect for Okposo to pass out to Zemgus Girgensons who shoots far-side on Tristan Jarry.
The Pens don’t even get to the first commercial break without giving up another. Jack Johnson holds the puck for 5 seconds allowing Buffalo to set up before making his partner pass. Kris Letang and Crosby have their wires crossed which results in an errant breakout pass attempt that Sam Reinhart picks off and is walking in alone. Reinhart makes a move and chips the puck over Jarry and it’s 2-0 Buffalo early.
The Sabres nearly make it 3-0 when Conor Sheary gets a great chance in front of the net but pushes the shot into the post with a lot of empty net looking at him.
Situation worsens for the Pens when Buffalo gets away with a too many men that goes uncalled, but Pittsburgh takes the first penalty call of the afternoon when Malkin slashes an opponent’s stick that breaks. That does lead to 3-0, Buffalo works the puck around and Jack Eichel has the whole half of the ice to himself. Not ideal! He whips a puck short-side by Jarry.
Mike Sullivan calls his timeout at this point, with 9:09 remaining in the first to yell at a team that deserves it! Dreadful start from every player in yellow.
Slowly the Pens try to show some life. Letang with a big hit along the dasher on Girgensons, then Patric Hornqvist drops a shoulder and totally smashes Marcus Johansson, whose head was not up at all. Buffalo jumps Hornqvist and takes a penalty for it.
Crosby and Hornqvist each get a really good chance to score but can’t quite do it.
Shots in the first end up 12-10 PIT. That doesn’t come close to reflecting how the period went, however.
Game putzes along, the Pens are a bit better but not really in it. Justin Schultz heads to the box but Pittsburgh kills it off.
Then Malkin gets them on the board, side-stepping the sliding defenseman in vintage Malkin style and finally putting a puck past Carter Hutton. 3-1 game.
But that’s all they get in a period where shots were 13-11 Pens. Jarry had to make a few nice saves to even keep it at 3-1. Better, but hardly digs them out of the hole that was dug in the first.
The Pens get a power play early, fail to score. Good chances just passing by the wayside.
Buffalo strikes on the rush after Johnson takes himself out of the play positionally and fails to disrupt possession. Jeff Skinner takes advantage by out-angling forward Sam Lafferty forced to drop back and play defense and that’s a mismatch. 4-1.
Brandon Tanev then sends Buffalo to another power play, and again it’s Eichel ripping a shot to victimize the short-side of Jarry. Rasmus Ristolainen was all in Jarry’s way and Johnson didn’t clear the net nor did he defend Eichel, kinda caught in them middle and couldn’t block the shot so, yep. 5-1.
Both teams playing at half speed it feels like playing out the stretch. Malkin scores his second of the game, because, hey if you see an empty net you gotta do it. Doesn’t really matter at this point with just a few minutes left but it’s a 5-2 game.
And that will do it.
No juice early. Another day game, another dreadful start. Pens give up a 13th opening goal in their last 17 afternoon games. Somehow through preparation or something they need to figure out a way to look alive earlier before falling in a hole. How that happens, who knows, but clearly something is wrong and needs to be addressed.
Context is King. This is the team’s first back to back regulation losses since November 30th. Losses can be frustrating, but that’s an important key to keep in mind. It’s been a bad two game stretch and they need to improve, but let’s keep it in context.
Sometimes you’re flush and sometimes you’re bust, and when you’re up, it’s never as good as it seems, and when you’re down, you never think you’ll be up again, but life goes on. Nothing is seemingly going right at the moment. Ever since going up 5-0 against Toronto on Tuesday and looking so dominant, opponents are outscoring the Pens 11-2. Fortunes turn quickly in the NHL and everything has to be earned on a shift-by-shift basis as cliche as it is to say. So, bad loss, whatever. The Pens will be up again at some point, even if it feels like at the moment they can do no right. Just how it goes.
And they’ll get the chance tomorrow in DC. This might be a great game to have since they never have a problem “getting up” for the rival Caps. So hopefully that will happen and they can get back to work on the road.