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Pens/Sabres Recap: Shot-out. Pens fight from behind all night, fall in shootout

The Pens fall behind in Buffalo three times, find a way to come back each time, until they’re done in by the shootout. Buffalo wins 4-3

Pittsburgh Penguins v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

The Penguins were back at it on Wednesday night in Buffalo, as the schedule tossed them a back-to-back this week right after coming back from a western road trip last week. Unsurprisingly, energy levels looked low to start with Pittsburgh taking and kill off two separate tripping minor penalties in the first period, perhaps a sign of leaning and reaching too much with the arms and not having the legs to keep up.

Buffalo would strike with 2:45 remaining in the first. Tage Thompson used his 6’7 wingspan to pull the puck way in and change the angle on Casey DeSmith and then snapped a really hard shot by him to open the scoring.

The Penguins pulled even early in the second period on a power play. After the puck entered the zone, Bryan Rust made a great centering pass for Sidney Crosby who ended up in space. Wrong guy for Buffalo to have get the puck there. Crosby quickly shot five-hole on Craig Anderson to get the Pens on the board.

The Pens got trapped several times with extended shifts in the second period, and that seemed to catch up to them after being pushed back and on their heels. Buffalo’s fourth line worked hard and generated another goal starting from behind the net that ended up in the slot on Zemgus Girgenson’s stick to create a 2-1 Buffalo lead.

Evgeni Malkin would work a little action to bring it back to a tie. Geno from behind the net just flipped the puck towards the cage. It hit goalie, defender and then went in the net.

Early in the third, for the third time in the game Buffalo would take the lead right after a power play expired. Thompson struck again, finding a spot in the zone and taking a pass from the Alex Tuch wraparound and rifling it by DeSmith to make it a 3-2 game just 1:01 into the frame.

The Pens put some pressure on as the third went along. Rust got a look at the net, as did Danton Heinen on a breakaway pass from Malkin. Rust drew a penalty with a little over six minutes left as a possible “best last chance” situation, including using a timeout about halfway through to give the big guns a chance to catch their breath. The timeout paid off, with a snazzy passing play following a Crosby faceoff win leading to Malkin feeding Kris Letang for a goal with 4:56 left that allowed Pittsburgh to tie the game for a third time.

That earns a point in the standings as the game goes to OT. Some fun 3v3 action ensues with chances on both side, including a great move by Rakell almost ended the game by his shot went wide.

Overtime wouldn’t contain these teams and a shootout would be required to decide the game. Thompson struck yet again on the opening shot to put pressure on Pittsburgh. Rust and Crosby failed and then Alex Tuch sent the Buffalo crowd happy by finishing off his attempt.

Some thoughts

  • In today’s edition of “fun Mike Sullivan line changes on the fly”: the first period saw Evgeni Malkin jump up for a shift with Sidney Crosby and then Rickard Rakell joined Crosby and Jake Guentzel for a shift with the top line the first period. By the middle of the second, Rakell was full-time with Crosby for the rest of that period.
  • And for Rakell, it’s not hard to feel a little bad for his current situation. As someone who took a red-eye from the west back east on Sunday night, a day before he did, I feel the pain in that (as travelers reading can also attest, that’ll take a toll). Then to have to play that day (yesterday) make a quick flight to Buffalo and play again tonight? Woof. That’s a lot of travel and hockey in a 36-48 hour stretch and not a lot of time for recovery and preparation.
  • And via the TNT broadcast’s speed tracker, they had Rakell at skating over 21 mph at one point during the game, the highest among all Penguin players at that point.
  • The Crosby power play goal was a bit of a happy accident for the Pens. Kris Letang’s lead pass for Jake Guentzel was a step ahead of Guentzel. But in a really smart, subtle little play, Guentzel was able to reach out and just direct it further for Bryan Rust. Rust himself did well to stay onside, ensure the puck gained the zone entry and then quickly hit Crosby with a perfect pass. From there, Buffalo was out of sorts (a positive consequence of the long Letang pass) and it was just down to Sid finishing. Another super-high display of hockey IQ/awareness for Guentzel to keep alive, and also jump ahead for a center lane drive on the play as well.
  • Two shots hit the knob on the top end of Craig Anderson’s stick and stayed out, first by Rust, then Heinen. Pittsburgh has had rotten finishing all year and just seems to get tripped up at the last moment on things like that have been piling up. Otherwise for a shot heavy team that averages almost 35 per game, well, this was definitely some depleted energy on a b-2-b game with only 24 shots in regulation.
  • As you can tell from the names in the bullets above, very active game from that Malkin line, at least. The addition of Rust there has made a world of difference in a positive way to help boost the second line.
  • Kinda strange this was only the second power play goal of the season for Letang, with as many points as he has. And it’s only his third PPG since the start of the 2020-21 season, believe it or not.
  • The Pens showed a lot of resilience, in the back and forth scoring they were down 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 and found ways to keep extending the game. The Malkin goal to send the game in tied after two periods was a big help in that regard. But this one was a battle to play catch up all night, and hold on for dear life when they got there. In a way, getting one point out of the evening but not two is a fairly just result for this game.
  • Casey DeSmith probably won’t mind not seeing Tage Thompson for a while. Two goals and another in the shootout for the big center, who always raises his game against the Pens, even when he wasn’t scoring against the rest of the league. Now he’s looking like a legit top-line player.

Well, the Pens will be happy to check this one off the list, get something out of the night and apparently escape Western New York without any obvious injuries or issues and move along to the next challenge. And what a challenge it will be, seeing the NY Rangers in their barn on Friday night.