The injury hits keep on coming for the Penguins who don’t have Kasperi Kapanen available tonight. That makes way for rookie Radim Zohorna to play his first career NHL game. Casey DeSmith gets the nod on the back-end of the back-to-back situation.
Ready for hockey!— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 25, 2021
Welcome to the NHL, Radim Zohorna! pic.twitter.com/OZxnvEwnKT
The Sabres aren’t much better off — their new interim head coach Don Granato and assistant coach announced they have to be in COVID protocol and GM Kevyn Adams is serving as the bench boss and de facto temporary head coach for this game. Also starter Linus Ullmark isn’t quite ready to return from injury, so third string goalie Dustin Tokarski (who was the fourth string goalie last week before a trade sent Jonas Johansson away) has to play his second NHL game in as many days.
The lineup versus Pittsburgh from @BuffaloSabres:— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) March 25, 2021
Here are the pros and cons of trading all of them. https://t.co/g53XHLXbWF
Not much going on early, Zach Aston-Reese takes a slashing penalty to hand Buffalo’s somewhat dangerous power play the first crack at it. They don’t score.
Late in the first the Pens do, and it’s their bottom line players (ohhh, Buffalo). But it’s a really nice backhand pass from the corner by Anthony Angello for his first assist of the season and the new guy Zohorna does well to quickly release the shot by Dustin Tokarski. 1-0 Pittsburgh with only a few minutes left in the period.
RADIM ZOHORNA IS SCORING NHL GOALS! pic.twitter.com/xrchzGOfY7— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 25, 2021
Not bad for a first shot on goal in the NHL for the 24-year old native of the Czech Republic.
Shots through one are 15-12 Pittsburgh.
Just 14 seconds into the period rookie Dylan Cozens takes a penalty to send the Pens to their first power play of the night. It takes a bit but they score on it. Sidney Crosby with a HELL of a job to keep the puck inside the zone on a Buffalo clearing attempt and Kris Letang finds Jared McCann who has wheeled around. McCann absolutely rips a shot short-side on Tokarski from the middle of the slot. 2-0 Pens.
Can we convert on the power play? YES, WE MCCANN!— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 26, 2021
Letang and Crosby pick up the helpers. pic.twitter.com/Uc08kKo3RP
Both teams trade a couple of power plays but nothing comes of further chances. Shots in the second are 9-5 Pens. Buffalo just has no sort of energy or heartbeat on their team.
Old friend Riley Sheahan takes a penalty in the third and the Pens quickly score on the power play. It’s McCann again, and he’s ripping it short-side again. 3-0 Pittsburgh.
Why have one McCann goal when you can have two? pic.twitter.com/UeNC9JMvDr— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 26, 2021
The Pens get another power play but can’t put yet another goal on the scoreboard. They actually give up a breakaway to Cody Eakins but DeSmith stands tall and stops him. Shoutout Casey DeSmith.
With 5:57 the Sabres score. Cozens walks right through Mike Matheson and centers the puck for an easy tap in.
HOWEVA — Mike Sullivan challenges the play for being off-side and it is, by a whisker by a player at the top of the play, who didn’t factor into the goal. Tough break to Buffalo, but they do get a penalty on Matheson on the continuation (even though it was off-side, it still was a penalty? Doesn’t make much sense if the play was dead by then but so it went). Pens kill it off anyways.
Buffalo pulls their goalie down 3-0, because why not, I guess, and Bryan Rust gives it up for Jake Guentzel to sail a shot into the unguarded cage to make it 4-0 just for s’s and g’s.
- Great to see McCann score two goals in this game. He was playing so good in early March before he got hurt for a second time this season and has seemingly been able to pick up right where he left off. Needless to say, that’s critically important for McCann to play well with so many other top forwards out of the lineup.
- McCann loves to shoot short-side too. If you’ve ever seen a Pens practice that’s almost exclusively what he works on. It was working tonight. He really has a lot of shooting talent when he can step into the puck the way he was able to on the power play with extra space tonight.
- McCann as a left shot in that swing point/floating role on the power play is like 1,000,000 times better of a fit than Kasperi Kapanen and his RH shot and uncomfortability shown on the right side. Shame it took the injury to find that, but McCann should excel in that role, especially if teams collapse low to take away Crosby and Guentzel.
- It was nice to see Zohorna make the most of his first NHL game with a goal. For a big guy he actually moves around the ice pretty well, his skating and mobility was impressive. Who knows what the future holds, and there’s no point at making sweeping predictions, but for now he had a good game, helped the team and deserves a jersey next game. A dream scenario for a goal in that first game.
- Zohorna as a Czech rocking the #67 is pretty sweet as a little takeoff of his legendary countryman Jaromir Jagr. Zohorna also lived out lots of dreams from kids from the ‘90s to create yourself as a player, wear #67 on the Pens to play with Lemieux and Jagr.
- DeSmith made 36 saves for the shutout. He was great on the breakaway, but I can’t remember any * real * quality chance or instance where I thought Buffalo would actually score. Besides the time they did score but were offsides. They’re just so non-threatening. But don’t let that get away from the fact DeSmith has shut them out for the last 2 games he has seen them. Such a comforting feeling to know there are two quality options in net, and the Pens have to have the feeling right now. DeSmith is in great form and has made playing Buffalo look really easy. (Probably because it is for him, but that’s OK too).
- Crosby, Guentzel Rust all play 20+ minutes...Brian Dumoulin went over 23, Letang went over 24....These guys really better eat their Wheaties these next few games. The burden is going to be very heavy. The Pens have no other choice.
- Is it weird Mark Jankowski and Sam Lafferty played more ES time than McCann and Zach Aston-Reese? Feels weird. A bit of a wide enough score it doesn’t matter, but it would be better if Sullivan was going with that second line more than the third. It’ll be interesting to see how that split goes against more competitive teams.
- Colton Sceviour - Jankowski - Lafferty got absolutely destroyed with a 16% CF% tonight (4 CF, 21 CA). The fourth liners were all at like 80%+ but played less. Shame to see Sullivan didn’t loosen up on Zohorna - Frederick Gaudreau - Angello and give them more time, they had a much more effective go of things than the more veteran “third” line.
- In all, hey, the Pens are way better than the Sabres. 4 more games to go against them too this year. That’s a pretty nice thing to know right now.
- And hey, best of all, didn’t seem like anyone got hurt tonight!
Pittsburgh gets a force multipler on the schedule coming up, with the next four games being NYI, NYI, @BOS, @BOS. Being way shorthanded in terms of quality forwards, this is going to be an uphill battle.
But let’s put some perspective right now. The Pens are 10 point clear of a playoff spot on NYR+PHI (those teams do have two games in hand). Pittsburgh’s games after the next four are @NYR, @NYR, @NJD, @NJD, PHI, @BUF, @BUF, NJD, NJD, NJD.
Survive the next week with four tough games, and then Pittsburgh gets lower end teams and/or teams they do well against for the 10 straight games. And maybe get some reinforcements along the way.