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Penguins/Sabres Thoughts: Pens fall in Buffalo 3-1

The score doesn’t matter, but the players who played well and didn’t does. Some thoughts on who stood out in ways both good and bad for the Pens

Pittsburgh Penguins v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Ben Green/NHLI via Getty Images

The Penguins hit the road for a matinee pre-season game in Buffalo. There wasn’t a ton of star power in the lineup today, but several key players involved in roster battles were on the ice and given a chance to make their cases. Below is the lineup and the lines that the Pens rolled out today.

Victor Olofsson scored the game’s first goal a little past the half way point of the second period on a delayed penalty situation in what virtually was a 6v4 situation (Radim Zohorna had just stepped out of the box). Olofsson whipped a one-timer after a long period of offensive zone time for the Sabres.

Before the second period could end, Buffalo would add a second goal. It came following a curl and drag move from last year’s 38-goal man Tage Thompson. Thompson got past Ty Smith and sniped a high shot past Tristan Jarry before Chad Ruhwedel could gap up on him.

Pittsburgh managed to spoil Buffalo’s shutout late in the game. On a pulled goalie, 6v5 desperation attack, the Pens had Valtteri Puustinen put the puck on the net from the left wall. With Drew O’Connor causing some havoc in front of the net, former Sabre Drake Cagguila was able to get to the rebound first and chip it home to put the Pens on the board.

It wouldn’t last, and the last gasp of the game came and went when Ty Smith shot wide, leading to a zone exit and easy path for Jack Quinn to convert on the pulled goalie for an empty netter to set the final score at 3-1 in favor of Buffalo.

Random Stray Observations:

  • This game was evidence why the coaching staff has been giving Drake Caggiula a bigger role in camp than perhaps expected as a quiet signing in the summer. He has good speed, he’s very smart away from the puck and in good position. Just tends to be a noticeable player who flashes for positive reasons.
  • Almost all of that above bullet point was written prior to an independent of the goal Caggiula netted near the end of the game. Just that kind of game.
  • Ryan Poehling was generating shots and shot assists in the second. Didn’t feel like it was a dominant effort from start to finish, but at times he was playing well.
  • Poehling and Kasperi Kapanen linked up to be the short-handed forwards a couple of times. That could be a potential regular season NHL PK group, nice to watch both get the chance to contribute a little in that situation.
  • Corey Andonovski is still new as a free agent signing just beginning his pro career, but he is a guy who often times will announce his presence in games. Andonovski dumped a Sabre in the first period with a thundering open ice hit. He’s clearly an AHL caliber player that needs some time to grow in the minors, but if he ever grows his game to make it to the NHL, he will be a cult fan-favorite as a speedy, physical Brandon Tanev-type of checking forward.
  • The best player in the game today might have been Ukko-Pekka Luukonen, the long and lean Buffalo goalie. It seems like the 23-year old has been on the brink of emerging for a long time now. With Craig Anderson and Eric Comrie signed, I don’t even know if Luukonen makes the NHL roster or not out of camp, but he’s got a lot of talent.
  • I thought my analysis on Radim Zohorna was much less sunny than a lot of other outlets on the internet from earlier games this preseason. And Zohorna has impressed and stood out to me in good ways in some instances this preseason (like intra-camp scrimmages), however lately it doesn’t feel to me it is all being put together. Today he was OK, but his biggest impact was probably taking two minor penalties within a few moments in the second period, including one to end a Penguin power play. Zohorna did have a glorious scoring chance from right in front (nice to be in the right place, I suppose) but also did not beat the goalie who looked like he might have been down and out.
  • Similarly, it’s seemed like Drew O’Connor has been “just OK” lately, including in this game. And while usually there’s nothing wrong with being OK — when a player is trying to win a spot on the roster, “just OK” isn’t going to be good enough. His play on the Pens’ lone goal was a plus, so credit for that, but overall I just don’t feel like he’s making the case that he “HAS” to be on the NHL roster right now.
  • Continuing with differing opinions, the broadcast loved the game of Nathan Legare today. He was alright, but I liked the play of his linemate Filip Hallander a lot more. Hallander generated a few chances, which he also has trouble finishing on, but did a lot of little things right and makes good decisions with the puck, including on the PK. Legare did have six SOG in limited time today, wasn’t a bad day for him by any means but the broadcasters liked it a lot more than I did.
  • Much like a young Mike Matheson, we had a “Ty Smith experience” type of game today. His smooth skating and calm puck handling was masterful on several zone entries. However, he put himself on the wrong side of Thompson and the bigger, stronger player won a contested puck and then Smith was out of the play via his aggressiveness. Thompson then showed why he scored a ton of goals last year with a nice pull of the puck to change the depth on Jarry and then rocket a hard shot to the top of the net.
  • For the rest of the defenders on the bubble, there weren’t as many glaring moments for the good or bad. P.O Joseph continues to show limitations with inaccurate/inconsistent in-zone passing and failing to extend plays and trouble getting point shots through shooting lanes that don’t exist. But he was skating well and seemed to cover a lot of ice and play well without the puck. Ruhwedel was, as ever, serviceable but not noticeable (probably a good thing). Surprisingly enough, a player you almost always notice in Mark Friedman was fairly quiet (probably not that much of a good thing).
  • Jarry went the distance today, playing all 60 minutes. He didn’t have much of a chance on either goal against (though it never feels great to watch a shot blow by a goalie, even if it was one of the best shooters in the game today who got the puck all the way down to the circle before he pulled the trigger in a prime spot). Otherwise Jarry looked OK. Probably not at the top of his game just yet, but he doesn’t have to be either.

Saw a tweet somewhere that said the Pens have not had a winning record in the pre-season since 2011. Not even sure if that’s true, but it feels about right and goes to reinforce that the results have no bearing on what the season will turn into when the lights come on and the games matter. The key is for the individuals on the bubble, some will rise to the occasion, and some will leave you wishing they had a little more to offer.

Now that the pre-season is inching towards the mid-point, the Pens are seeing that picture start to come more into focus.