The Pittsburgh Penguins finished off a back-to-back, home-and-home sweep of the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena with a 5-1 win against the hapless club that currently resides in the basement of the Eastern Conference.
If you want to look at a negative, Pittsburgh gave up the first goal scored by Buffalo in just over 232 minutes when Jason Pomenville scored to make it 3-1 with just under 9 minutes to go in the game. Out side of that it was a perfect weekend for the club, and for one Tristan Jarry who nearly recorded two shutouts in a row and looked exceptionally solid while starting his stint of filling in for the injured Matt Murray.
Jarry made 66 of 67 saves in the two games between the clubs and 32 on Saturday where he was tested in tougher of a manner than he was on Friday night in upstate New York.
Like the Penguins as a team, Jarry has now won four consecutive appearances in net and looks every bit the prized prospect he looked to be when he played with the Edmonton Oil Kings and was drafted by the club to be the goalie of the future a few years back. Much in the way of his injured teammate, Jarry posses an assertive calmness while taking control of a game. Even when the scramble in front of him is chaotic, Jarry coolly finds the puck in traffic and brings it to a halt.
One thing to watch as we turn the calendar to 2018 is the play of Jarry and how much he spells Murray when the two are at full health and facing the grueling back to back madness that awaits the club in the second half of the season. A back up that is more than capable to carry a club will be a key component in this team’s second half success and playoff positioning.
Back to Saturday, The Penguins doubled up Buffalo in shots in the first period ten to five but could not get on the board until Evgeni Malkin snapped a shot past Sabres goalie Chad Johnson . Malkin picked up a puck high in his own zone and put on the jets and coasted into the Sabres zone. Malkin looked off Phil Kessel who was with him in a mini two-on-one before beating a helpless Johnson low to make it 1-0 Pens.
The Pens would fail to connect on three chances with the man advantage in the opening period in a chance to really put the game away early and often. Ryan Reaves would also have a game of fist-a-cuffs with Zach Bogosian to get the crowd worked up mid way through the first.
The 1-0 lead would stand, and eventually double when Carl Hagelin notched his first in nineteen games. Riley Sheahan used a great forecheck to get a turnover behind Johnson’s net and come away with the puck. He would find Bryan Rust at the far circle who quickly one-touched the puck to Hagelin. Hagelin cut through the low slot, out-waited Johnson and put the puck in to a wide open cage with the goalie sprawled down and out at 5:36 of the second period. Hagelin’s second goal of the year and a well-deserved one as the oft-maligned forward had been doing everything right lately, just not getting goals to go in. Hopefully this could be the start of a good points stretch for him and quiet any trade talk.
Much like period one, the Penguins would strike late in the second as well as Patric Hornqvist was in the right place at the right time to get a feed from Sidney Crosby on a four-on-three power play and one time the puck home for a 3-0 lead into the second intermission. Crosby would skate the puck from out high in the offensive zone before working down to the far post. Crosby would put a neat, short little backhand pass right to Hornqvist who then slammed it home. This makes double digits in goals for the Swede who continues to show why he should absolutely get an extended contract sooner, rather than later.
The third period would stay quiet as the Sabres look mostly disinterested and the Pens were happy to oblige before Pomenville’s tally cut the lead to two. But before Buffalo could gather ANY kind of momentum from the goal, Phil Kessel threw water on it all when he again struck from his favorite spot to make the lead grow back to three at 4-1. Kessel would find himself at the near circle and you KNEW he was gonna shoot. Watching the game, you expected him to go top far corner as he likes to do. Johnson himself must have thought the same thing as when Kessel instead went low and short side, the Sabres goalie froze and didn’t react. Kessel’s 12th goal of the campaign briefly put him back in a tie with Jake Guentzel for the team lead in goals and just two minutes after Buffalo’s goal.
Briefly being the key term as Crosby would end the scoring for the night when he found an empty net from high in the offensive zone with 1:02 left, also giving him 12 on the year. Crosby has now scored one or more goals in each of his last five games. Sid also has a six game point scoring streak.
Kris Letang would pick up 2 assists, and Hornqvist would add an assist to go along with his second period power play goal.
The Penguins would finish the night 1 for 6 on the power play, while Buffalo finished 0 for 4.
The team’s goals for, and against that was once a -19 just ten days ago has now been shaved to a -8 in short order. The club is producing offensively while finding their defensive form slowly but surely. Keep in mind two games against a bottom feeder will help in that aspect. You don’t control who you play on the schedule though….only how you play them on the ice. The Pens now also find themselves just two points behind Columbus for first place in the division and one point behind the NJ Devils for second in the always tough, Metro Division.
The Penguins continue their five game home stand on Tuesday when the New York Rangers come to town. It will be the second meeting of the teams as the Penguins won a wild 5-4 overtime decision back on October 17th in New York City at MSG.
Game time is set for 7:30 PM and the game will be broadcast Nationally on NBCSN.
I will have you covered here with a pre and post-game column at the Sports Castle website. Thanks, as always for reading!