Score: Sabres 1 | Penguins 3
Shots: BUF 38 | PIT 31
Buffalo Sabres Goals:
1) Krebs (Fitzgerald, Girgensons)
Pittsburgh Penguins Goals:
1) Rakell (Malkin, Crosby)
2) Crosby (Guentzel, Dumoulin)
3) Crosby (Guentzel, Rust)
Minus 1: The Post Heard ‘Round the Rink
Down 2-0 early in the first period, the Sabres drew a penalty to go up a man. Dahlin spun the Penguin killer into oblivion at the blue line and walked in uncontested right off the draw. He wound up and beat Casey DeSmith…but couldn’t beat the post. This wasn’t the only time in the first period Buffalo would be denied by some iron. Dylan Cozens rang one off the pipe on another powerplay later in the game.
After a poor start, the Sabres needed a bounce or two to go their way. The hockey gods disagreed. Even with controlling 5-on-5 play for most of the game, the Sabres were noticeably snake bitten. This would continue throughout the game as chances that had been going in the last couple of weeks seemed to be just off the mark. Game 1 without Skinner was not a promising start.
Minus 2: Top Line Toppled
The NHL has found out the last few weeks how tough it is to prevent Tage Thompson from taking control of a game. However, there is one play in the league that seems to have found the right formula. Unfortunately, he is on the Sabres roster. Casey Mittelstadt got a look at the top line after Jeff Skinner was assessed a three-game suspension for his crosscheck to Guentzel’s face last game.
To say the line was less effective would be an understatement. The new trio did not find chemistry together and struggled to create offense all night. Penguins defenders were particularly targeting Mittelstadt when he had the puck and forced him to try and make plays on the wall. Thompson is less dynamic when he is constantly trying to pull the puck off the wall from a wrap around or a board scrum. Skinner’s ability to make plays in tight spaces was surely missed.
Plus 1: The Kids Are Alright
Facing off against one of the oldest teams in the league, you would have expected the youngest team in the league to use their relatively fresh legs to their advantage in a back-to-back scenario. This was true for the Cozens’ line at least. The “Kids Line” (true nickname still being workshopped on Twitter) generated numerous chances throughout the night but couldn’t solve DeSmith. However, they were easily Buffalo’s most consistent, effective, and dangerous line against the Pens. Within a few third period shifts, JJ Peterka turned on the jets to create two 2-on-1’s and backchecked a clear-cut breakaway.
One critique of this line is they were too passive in this game. There were multiple opportunities where they went for the backdoor pass instead of taking a shot from a scoring area. The best example of this is when the trio went down on a 3-on-2 and Quinn received the centering pass in the slot with an open lane to the net. Instead of teeing up a bomb, he passed it off to the wing in an attempt for a back door tap in. Hindsight is 20/20 but with only a few minutes left and still down a goal, additional situational awareness might have given the Sabres a better chance. Mistakes like these will be corrected in time, especially with Quinn who is not shy about taking a scoring chance for himself.
For the second night in a row, the Sabres fall short in a game they outplayed their opponent. Despite a dismal start to the game, UPL had one of his better efforts in goal. The first Crosby goal was on the softer side, but in his defense, he’s not the first goalie Crosby has gotten the better of. Buffalo took control in the second half of the game but looked like a team who was missing a top line left winger. Unfortunately, the Sabres are not in a position where they can be missing key guys against good teams. Their depth is not yet ready to pick up the slack.
However, there were some significant positives in this one. Although it wasn’t helpful to the Sabres chances, it was great to see Kris Letang return to the ice only 12 days after suffering a stroke. We wish him continued improved health going forward. Peyton Krebs scored his second goal in three games and has played some of his best hockey recently. The “Kids Line” continues to flourish in all situations, even with a tough matchup against Crosby’s line. Dahlin looked phenomenal once again as he had over 30 minutes of ice time. Hopefully, they can find an offensive spark against the notoriously defensive LA Kings.