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Recap: Desperate Pens come up short against Buffalo

Dustin Tokarski makes 45 saves to frustrate the Penguins and send them to a fourth straight loss

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

Pregame

One switch for the Penguins, Brian Boyle is a healthy scratch and Dominik Simon draws back into the lineup.

First period

Pretty decent start for the Pens, considering some of their recent starts. Pittsburgh gets the first power play of the game when Jacob Bryson interferes with Jake Guentzel but the power play...Doesn’t score again, pushing them to 0-for-26 in the last 26 chances. They had good zone time and some looks at the net, but not much had a good chance to beat Dustin Tokarski.

Both teams put up some shots in the first, but it’s a largely uneventful period. Pens are up 14-10 on the SOG chart, but neither team scores in the first 20 minutes.

Second period

Sidney Crosby starts the period with new wingers — Dominik Simon and Danton Heinen. Crosby gets a 2-on-1 but his pass isn’t on the money. The puck goes the other way and the Sabres score. Colin Miller scores on a slapshot from the right point and Tristan Jarry has his vision and ability to set his position obscured by two battling players in front of him. 1-0 Buffalo just 28 seconds in.

The second shift of the newly formed Crosby line doesn’t go much better, with Heinen taking an offensive-zone high-sticking penalty after a sequence of great puck possession for the Pens. Buffalo’s power play doesn’t generate much.

But Buffalo does get the game’s second goal a bit later. Zemgus Girgensons makes a nifty pass off the back of the net (somewhere Milan Kraft does a fist pump) and eludes Jake Guentzel. Girgensons skates to the wall but throws the puck back to the front. Kyle Okposo gets a redirection from right in front before Chad Ruhwedel can tie him up and it’s 2-0.

Badly needing a spark, the Pens instead get a power play when Cody Eakin slashes the stick of Bryan Rust. Crosby sets up Jeff Carter for a nice shot but Tokarski makes the blocker save.

Carter gets a 5v5 chance on a wraparound, the puck comes close to going in, but Tokarski’s right leg extends just in time to stop it from conclusively going all the way over.

The Pens get another power play and get more frustration. Jake Guentzel gets in alone, Tokarski stops the shot and then Guentzel runs him! Amazingly, no penalty is called on what was clear goalie interference. The Buffalo bench is rightfully going crazy. The refs make it up to him by calling Bryan Rust for a penalty a few seconds later.

Shots in the second are 12-6 Pittsburgh, but the Sabres made the most of it, scoring twice on them.

Third period

Teddy Blueger gets a breakaway on the PK but Tokarski stones him.

Marcus Pettersson is next on the parade to the box, for interference. Evan Rodrigues and Brock McGinn get glorious chances in front while short-handed but Tokarski is a brick wall. What an incredible time to get goalie-d.

With all the momentum comes another power play for Pittsburgh. And they finally break through. Some snazzy passing saw Letang one-touch to Crosby who fed Rust who then centered the puck for Guentzel. The puck went off Guentzel’s foot and in. He angled his foot but their was no distinct kicking motion. The power play drought is over! 2-1 Buffalo still with 14:01 left.

The Pens have cranked the pressure up to 11, Guentzel is flying around everywhere. Zach Aston-Reese draws ire by poking at Tokarski when he has the puck around him, triggering a post-whistle fight with Robert Hagg. Aston-Reese gets an extra minor penalty out of it.

Here’s how the Corsi tracking looks on Natural Stat Trick mid-way through the third

40! 40! That kind of domination at the NHL level is almost unheard of. Shots in the third now are 16-1 Pens.

Pittsburgh gets caught finally on a few breaks the other way, Letang has to slash a player and goes to the box. The Pens pull Jarry and make it 5v5 the hard way as they try to claw out a game-tying goal.

The Pens took a timeout with 27 seconds left. With one last gasp effort, Rust gets a pass from Crosby and....hits the post. Just that kind of night.

Sabres escape with a 2-1 win. Shots on goal for the game overall are 46-19 Pittsburgh.

Some thoughts

  • As a smaller, skinny player a common complaint about Jake Guentzel is that he can’t or isn’t around the net. Twice in the last three games he’s flat out destroyed a goalie in the crease. Going hard to the paint has not been an issue.
  • It’s probably sign of a lack of timing, but interesting that it’s Carter and not Crosby taking most of the power play faceoffs, on the left or right side of the ice. Still interesting to see, Crosby as one of the league’s best traditionally in faceoffs would 100% be taking them in normal times.
  • Overall on the night, Crosby did take 16 faceoffs, winning 10 of them, so it’s not as if he was struggling. But even the critical o-zone faceoff with 27 and then 19 seconds left in the game, Carter took them both. (Won ‘em both too).
  • The experiment for Heinen+Simon and Crosby only lasted a few shifts, and much for the better. It did not go well. That was a very unusual Mike Sullivan decision to make just that one isolated move. Meanwhile, ignore the obvious switch to put Rodrigues back with Kapanen and Zucker stays unused. Very odd.
  • After scoring their second goal in the second period, the Sabres didn’t get a shot on goal until deep in the third. That chart above is wild.
  • Crazy to get goalie-d on a night like this. Gotta give Tokarski credit, he was stopping literally everything, except a bounce of a skate. He was able to look around traffic (a concept seemingly unknown to Pittsburgh goalies) and make stops. His rebound control was excellent. Try as the Pens may, they just couldn’t get it through.

For a desperate team, the Pens certainly got that way in the second and third period. Unfortunately though, they were already down by two goals at that point and got shut down by a great goalie performance. I mean, 45 saves on 46 shots by Dustin Tokarski, what can you even do about that.

Tough one to handle for a fourth straight loss for Pittsburgh, who just couldn’t quite get there. A haunting image: