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Pens/Sabres Recap: Carter’s OT goal extends Pittsburgh’s winning streak

The Pens blow a third period lead, but recover with a Jeff Carter overtime goal to defeat the Buffalo Sabres for their sixth straight win

Buffalo Sabres v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Pregame

Brian Boyle is knocked out of the lineup with a minor lower body injury, so Sam Lafferty gets to draw back in. Otherwise, the Penguins are aligned similar to how they have been for a while now on this five-game winning streak.

As for Buffalo, well, they have a team dressing too. Shoutout to Casey Fitzgerald making his NHL debut. He’s the son of 2009 Stanley Cup champion assistant coach Tom Fitzgerald.

First period

Pittsburgh is a stronger team and they jump on Buffalo right out the gates. Young phenom defenseman Rasmus Dahlin cross-checks Drew O’Connor and gets a penalty 5:21 in to send the Pens to the game’s first power play. It only takes about 30 seconds for the Pens to strike. Kris Letang feeds Evan Rodrigues and he lets it rip and it goes in off the shoulder of Malcolm Subban. 1-0 Pittsburgh.

The Pens are acting like they smell blood in the water — Buffalo is playing a career .898 save% goalie and their third game in four nights. Plus, they’re the Sabres.

Shots through 12 minutes are 17-2 Pittsburgh. It’s about total domination.

Zach Aston-Reese dumps Jacob Bryson into the wall from behind, Tage Thompson takes offense and starts a fight. Not much of a heavyweight bout, but notable that it sends the Pens to a power play as Thompson picks up an extra two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. Aston-Reese was pretty lucky to avoid a penalty for driving a guy from the numbers into the boards, but to quote the great American philosophist Tony Soprano, “whaddya gonna do?”

Perhaps fittingly, the power play does not convert and almost soon after, Dominik Simon takes a tripping minor to give Buffalo their first power play of the evening. They even get one shot on goal, forcing Tristan Jarry to actually do something.

Shots in the first are 21-5. Not a misprint. 21. 5. Buffalo, y’all alright? (below via @shotmaps)

But the score is only 1-0, and Subban throwing his arm behind his back to make an unconventional but straight up brilliant stop on denying Rodrigues a second goal is the only reason why it’s not a bit more lopsided. No clue how his glove arm bends like that behind his body, while lunging into the splits no less.

It’s 1-0, feels like it is and should be about 10-0.

Second period

Early in the period, Sam Lafferty swoops in and hits Vinnie Hinostroza in open ice. Pretty clean but first time NHLer Casey Fitzgerald challenges Lafferty to a fight. Pretty spirited, and man of the people Tom Fitzgerald is visibly loving it sitting in the crowd with a big smile on his face and clapping loudly as his boy stands up for a teammate.

Soon after, Colin Miller grabs Simon as he’s skating by and the Pens get another power play. Pittsburgh doesn’t score on it, but they do soon after. A couple shot attempts in a scramble draws Subban out of his cage and an errant pass bounces to Brock McGinn. He’s not going to miss the open net. 2-0 Pens.

With 7:26 left, the Sabres get on the board. A point shot gets deflected, takes a ricochet off the ice and hits Jarry in the mask. The bouncing puck settles right down for Zemgus Girgensons all alone on the doorstep. Some bad luck, to be sure. Jarry lunges and almost disrupts the shot, what was an easy goal does actually barely go in. But it does go in, and at least nominally Buffalo is in the game. 2-1 Pens.

Marcus Pettersson takes a penalty, but McGinn finds a new way to extend the PK streak by using his speed up the wing to make a Sabre grab him and get called for it, and we go to 4v4 (and technically a successful penalty kill for Pittsburgh).

Shots in the second period are balanced at 10-10 as the Sabres get some credit for getting the legs moving and showing up in this game. And there’s only a one shot difference with 20 minutes left in regulation, 2-1 Pens.

Third period

Shots initially are 11-2 Pens in the third, but Subban does well to hold his team in the game. It pays off with 5:18 left and Rasmus Dahlin ties the game. The star Buffalo defender sneaks in front the point against Pittsburgh’s checking line no less, and gets a cross-ice pass and buries it on Jarry. 2-2 game.

In the dying moments of the period, Jeff Carter was in the offensive zone got his stick between the legs of an opponent and he went down, officials call it. Buffalo to a power play with five seconds left, which looms large for..

Overtime

With 1:55 of 4v3 power play time to start OT, Buffalo quickly gets setup in the zone but Teddy Blueger and then John Marino get clears. The Pens get a 35th straight penalty kill and it’s perhaps one of the most crucial, situationally speaking.

Buffalo is off-side, so a NZ faceoff happens. Carter wins it, Kris Letang enters the zone and Carter goes to the net. Letang sends a centering pass that Carter just has his stick on the ice to redirect into the net for his 10th goal of the season and the GWG on this night.

The winning streak moves to six games as Carter redeems himself for the late penalty to send the fans home happy.

Some thoughts

  • A personal observation that at times both of Rodrigues and Kasperi Kapanen don’t use and find Crosby enough in the zone when they have the puck and he is open. They tend to get more one-tracked and take it to the net themselves. It’s a thin line, of course, between “don’t change your game, play with a star the same way how got you to this point” and “hey it’s freakin’ Sidney Crosby, be sure to take the extra step to use your vision and feed him when you can”. Little things that add up and show why some wingers (like Jake Guentzel, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Bryan Rust) tend to stick as Crosby linemates. Vision, in-zone passing, anticipation, incorporating a star without totally deferring to him. It’s a fine line to tread, but it’s a line that is there. Something to keep an eye on in the future, but just sayin’, I wouldn’t be surprised if/when certainly Guentzel and maybe even Rust are back with Sid when healthy..
  • Pens are now 15-1-0 this season when scoring first (and 1-7-5 when falling behind 1-0). First goal, very key, even though Pittsburgh had to come back and pull this one out in OT.
  • Two fights tonight, which stands out in this day and age. Pittsburgh only had three fights this season in the first 28 games prior to this game and thus nearly doubled the season total in one evening.
  • This was definitely “schedule loss” territory for the Sabres, ending a three game road trip in just four days tonight. They were down 2-0. They were getting pounded on with shots. But, credit to them, they pulled the game to OT and had a chance. They’re not overly skilled or formidable, but you certainly have to tip a cap for their competitive spirit and not letting this one slip away and instead battling in a tough circumstance. Last year, I feel like this definitely would have been a 5-1 Pens win, given how the game unfolded. Tip of the cap to Subban, who held them in it as well as could be expected.
  • Pittsburgh goes 3/3 on the night to extend the PK streak up to 15 straight games. That’s now over half of the season to date since the Pens surrendered a goal to the opponent’s power play, which is really astounding.
  • Nice for Carter to get the GWG, it was his seventh shot of the night.
  • Another big time game from Letang too. Game-high 26:29 played, and he was the only player with a multi-point night with his two primary assists. Add in eight shot attempts (four on goal), two hits and it again was another big impact from the top dog.

Pens push their winning streak to a league-high six for the season so far, and they’ll take the show on the road for Sunday night in New Jersey to keep the good vibes rollin’.