Observations from the Penguins' 5-4 shootout win against the Sabres:
For the Penguins, this game was almost like a platypus.
Stick with us on this.
It had a bit of everything. Good special teams play. Bad special teams play. Sloppy mistakes. Opportunistic scoring. Leaky goals allowed. Clutch saves. Turnovers. Takeaways.
It seemingly possessed every characteristic - good and bad - that a team will encounter of the course of 82 games.
Kind of like a platypus.
The only clear-cut identifying trait this contest had for the Penguins - the most important trait - was the two points they earned in the standings.
There's a lot to not like about about this game from the Penguins' perspective. There's plenty to be concerned with. But ultimately, its a win and it gets the Penguins a little closer to the playoffs.
The Sabres scored the first goal on a power play at 9:26 of the first period. Former Johnstown Tomahawks defenseman Casey Nelson fed a pass from center point to left winger Johan Larsson above the right circle. The puck hit a body in front and deflected to the top of the crease. Former Penguins left winger prospect Matt Moulson located the rebound and hacked it in with a backhand past the stick of defenseman Trevor Daley and scrambling goaltender Matt Murray. Assists went to Larsson and Nelson.
They made it a 2-0 game with a short-handed goal at the 14:05 mark. Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly hounded Daley into a turnover at Buffalo's right point and pushed it up ice. Fending off Daley, he fed a backhand to center David Legwand inside the blue line. Legwand lifted a backhander from the right circle past the stick of defenseman Derrick Pouliot and through Murray's five hole. The puck slid to the goal line and was cleared away by Daley for a moment. The puck hit off right wing Phil Kessel to the left of the crease. O'Reilly followed up on the rebound and buried it. The goal was unassisted.
It turned into a 3-0 advnatage with 1:02 left in the first period. With left winger Chris Kunitz and Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen each in their respective penalty boxes for roughing minors, the teams faced a four-on-four situation. Sabres center Jack Eichel beat center Matt Cullen for a faceoff in the Penguins' right circle and got it back to defenseman Zach Bogosian at the right point. Bogosian fed it to O'Reilly on the right wall. O'Reilly surveyed the zone for a moment, faked a pass then snapped a cross-ice feed to Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe sneaking down low to the left of the net. McCabe got behind left winger Carl Hagelin, cut across the front of the crease and lifted a backhander past a sprawling Murray. Defenseman Ben Lovejoy seemed to be lost in space on the play and was high in the crease as McCabe attacked the net. O'Reilly and Bogosian got assists.
The Penguins got on the scoreboard from an unlikely source 1:28 into the second. Right winger Tom Kuhnachkl head-manned a three-on-two rush through the neutral zone and dealt a pass to right winger Bryan Rust on the right wing. Rust gained the offensive zone, drew in Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk and fed a pass across the front of the crease to Lovejoy on the backdoor. From a somewhat tough angle, Lovejoy was able to sneak a wrister in between Sabres goaltender Chad Johnson's blocker and his body and into the cage. Rust and Kuhnhackl got assists.
A determined effort made it a 3-2 game. After losing footing in the right wing corner of the Sabres' zone, center Sidney Crosby was able to poke the puck away from Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons and ended up passing it (sort of) to left winger Conor Sheary low along he goal line. From the right of the cage, Sheary was able to settle the puck enough and lifted a wrister by Johnson's blocker on the far side to pull the Penguins within a goal. Crosby had the lone assist.
They tied it with a short-handed goal late in the third period. After Eichel gained the offensive zone on the right wing during a power play, he fired a bad pass off the far end boards and turned it over to defenseman Kris Letang. Letang took the puck and fired it up ice on the right wing to Kuhnhackl who created a two-on-one with Cullen against Ristolainen. Kuhnhackl fed a pass to Cullen who gained the zone on the left wing. Cullen drew in Ristolainen and dealt it back to Kuhnhackl who seamlessly whipped in a forehand shot by Johnson's glove hand on the near side. Cullen and Letang had assists.
The Penguins took their first lead of the game 24 seconds later with another short-handed goal on the same power play. Lovejoy hammered a clearing attempt from his own right circle down ice into the Sabres' end boards. Johnson left his crease and unsuspectingly turned it over to Hagelin forechecking from behind off the right wing. Hagelin took the puck off his skate and fed a backhand pass to center Nick Bonino all alone above the crease and Bonino plunked in the easy goal into an open net. Hagelin netted the only assist.
Buffalo tied the game again, 4-4, 2:13 into the third period. Nelson fed a pass from the right point to Larsson on the right half wall. Larsson surveyed the zone and snapped a cross-ice pass to Bogosian to the right of the age. Bogosian moved in and fired a wrister by Murray's glove hand on the near side. Assists went to Larsson and Nelson.
The game moved to overtime and Murray was forced to make a few tough saves including a pulsating breakaway attempt by Eichel which Murray snuffed out with 32 seconds left in the period. In the shootout, Letang and Kessel scored in the shootout while Murray denied O'Reilly and Eichel on their attempts.
This game was full of mistakes, particularly on the back end, for the Penguins. Just about every defenseman had some sort of faux pas which led to a quality scoring chance for the Sabres. Perhaps the absences of Brian Dumoulin and Olli Maatta are being felt a bit but the defense as a whole was not good.
-Lovejoy was all over the place. He made a bad read on McCabe's goal then he started the comeback with his goal. He took a penalty but also figured in on a short-handed goal by blasting a puck down ice leading to Bonino's score. He needed a more level game.
-The Penguins gave up the game's first lead for the fourth consecutive game. Clearly, they have the fire power to rebound and reclaim the lead but this isn't an ideal pattern.
-The power play looked ineffective once again. The experiment of using Beau Bennett in the slot didn't seem to improve or even hurt the power play.
-Conversely, the penalty kill was all over the place. It scored two short-handed goals on the same power play chance but allowed two power-play goals.
-Murray wasn't outstanding but he showed some resolve in buttoning things down after allowing three goals in the first period.
-Secondary scoring really keyed this game for the Penguins. Look at their goals. All of them came from role players. It's a testament to this team's depth.
The Sabres looked they almost were surprised more than anyone else in the building that they stormed out to a 3-0 lead. After the first period, they just seemed like they were trying to hold on for dear life but got overwhelmed a bit by the Penguins' speed.
-We're not sure how to fairly judge Johnson's game. He gave up some ugly goals but he stole a few as well. And he was playing for the second consecutive game.
-Bogosian always seems to do damage against the Penguins.
-Nelson recorded two assists.
-Cullen talked about the big picture:
“It wasn't a game that we had hoped for or drawn up or were particularly happy with. But ultimately, it's two points in he books and we move on. But it was an odd game, there's no doubt.”
-Sullivan talked up his players in mounting the comeback:
“I think the credit goes to our players. I think they have a certain resilience to them right now. It starts with our leadership. It starts with guys like Sid and Kris Letang and Matt Cullen. Guys like that that lead the charge and carry the room in there. But it trickles down to our young players. I think this group has a resilience they've developed here over the last few months. And I also think the fact that we've been able to climb back in some games and have success when we've been down has shown evidence to them that they can do it. And that was our message to them after the first period. That certainly wasn't how we drew it up. I don't think any of us to a man liked the first period. But the good news is there's 40 minutes left and we're a good enough team that if we put our minds to it, we can climb back into it. I think those guys responded in the second period."
-The first period clearly wasn't ideal for Sullivan's tastes:
"Not a lot went right. I thought we made some mistakes that were uncharacteristic of our guys. We've talked a lot about becoming a team that doesn't beat itself. If teams are going to get scoring chances or they're going to score goals, they're going to have to make real good plays in order for it to happen and pay a price. We just I think made some mistakes early in the game that are uncharacteristic of our group. So from that regard, we didn't like it. And I don't think our players liked it. These guys are proud guys and they care. But what I really liked is how we respond to it. We know we're capable of climbing in games regardless of the score or what the deficit is. It didn't go our way in the first period. We can't take it back. All we can do is react. I think our players deserve a lot of credit with how they responded to it."
-Letang talked about the first period:
"If you look at it, we had 20 shots, almost 20 shots. We made a lot of costly mistakes. We gave them freebies. It was just a question of straightening up our game and going into the second playing the right way. What was said was just to play the right way."
-Kuhnhackl was asked about trailing early yet again:
“For some unknown reason, it keeps happening, especially the last couple of home games. We've found ourselves one or two, even today three goals down. That can't happen [approaching] the playoffs.”
-Murray was asked about stopping Eichel's overtime breakaway:
“The thing that makes it tough is that he's able to shoot with the puck so far away from his body. He can change the angle and he can change the angle more than most guys. That's the only thing you have to worry about. I thought I played it pretty well."
-Murray explained the difference between stopping a breakaway and a shootout attempt:
"It's a little bit different. I think the back pressure is what makes it different. You've got to come in with a little more speed when there's a guy riding your tail. In the shootout, you can come in slow like [Letang] did and that can throw off a goalie pretty bad. Same kind of idea though. You just want to kind of stay right on top of him and force him to make the first move."
-Murray said Eichel tried the same move in the shootout:
"It was pretty much the same move to be honest. He went forehand. I think in overtime he might have been trying to five hole. It was right along the ice. In the shootout, he was trying to go over the pad or high glove. I think I got a little piece of it. He might have been missing the net anyways. Same idea. He's either a shooter or he likes to go to his backhand. I was able to read it pretty well and make the save."
-Letang joked about playing 35:14 tonight:
“I want to rest. That's for sure.”
-The Penguins are really pushing some players for individual awards and a team employee asked Sullivan in the post-game press conference about Letang's play as of late:
"He's a really efficient guy and we've relied on him a lot in key situations. He's a great skater. His fitness level is off the charts. He's a tremendous competitor. I honestly think that he doesn't get the recognition in the hockey world that he deserves. I think he's that good. He's an elite defenseman. He's one of the most elite defensemen this league has in our opinion as a coaching staff. Sometimes we marvel at what he's been able to do as far as helping us win at both ends of the rink. Part of it is the amount of minutes he logs in a game-by-game basis. Tonight was no different. I thought he had moments where he was trying to do a little too much and that's when I think he gets himself in trouble and we try to talk to him about playing within himself and being a little bit more calculated with his decision making. When he does try to do too much, it's usually a result of he's trying to make a difference. But in some instances, and this has been my constant dialog with him, is sometimes less is more. When he recognizes that, we think he plays an efficient game. But in our mind, he's just played monster minutes for us for a long time. Not just here and there. He does it every night. He's a big reason why I think this team has climbed back into this race and climbed up the standings."
-Sheary gave a little play-by-play of his goal:
“It was kind of a weird play. I honestly thought there was a penalty on the play. I think maybe their guys did too because they were kind of flat-footed. The puck popped out to me and I had an open lane to the net."
-Sabres coach Dan Bylsma (that still feels weird to type), talked about the Penguins' speed:
“I think there's two aspects of their speed that are dangerous. They're playing a very quick game. One is you talk about the speed of the players but the length of which they're playing is difficult to handle. The first period, you saw four instances where they sent... their speed was out high and gone and they sent pucks out. Didn't connect but it's a formidable situation to be dealing with. Then you look at a situation late in the game where they make a long play in the middle and pass back to speed. Now you have speed coming at you. It's dangerous in a couple of different ways and I think that's really the hard part to deal with the way they are playing."
-The Penguins dominated shots, 46-30.
-Letang led the game with eight shots.
-Defenseman Ian Cole was the Penguins' only skater who failed to record a shot.
-Bogosian and Ristolainen each led the Sabres with four shots.
-Letang led the game with 35:14 of ice time. That was a career best.
-Ristolainen led the Sabres with 29:10 of ice time.
-The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 42-32 (57 percent).
-Cullen was 15 for 19 (79 percent).
-O'Reilly was 14 for 15 (56 percent).
-Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges and left winger Niclas Deslauriers each led the game with three blocked shots.
-Letang led the Penguins with two blocked shots.
-The last time the Penguins got short-handed goals on the same power play chance:
-Bonino's short-handed goal was the first of his career.
-Letang (344 points) moved past defenseman Ron Stackhouse (343 points) for 18th place on the franchise's career scoring list.
-The only defenseman with more points for the franchise is Paul Coffey (440 points).
-Moulson's goal was his first since Nov. 1.
-The Penguins are pretty close to officially securing a playoff berth:
(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)