It is Pittsburgh’s turn to find themselves on the outside looking in. For the second time in a week the Penguins had a late third period lead and end up losing in overtime. This time to the Buffalo Sabres. It wasn’t a particularly bad game by the Penguins. They were in control of the puck for much of the game. They were unable to cash in
Pittsburgh is now tied with Columbus in points, but has played one more game than the Blue Jackets. Pittsburgh has an opportunity tonight to tie Montreal in the standings with a regulation win. They are two points behind Montreal with a game in hand. The Carolina Hurricanes are in third place with 76 points and are a team I’d be surprised to miss the playoffs at this point. Jordan Staal just returned from his concussion and they are controlling even more of the play recently. Nino Niederreiter has given them some finishing ability. Montreal and Columbus feel like the direct competition right now. Here’s how important the game against Montreal is tonight
Erik Gudbranson was a 74% possession player in his debut with the team. That’s a really good night for anybody and a good start to his Penguins tenure. The context is that three quarters of the team were above 60%. There were flashes of things that will be problematic in the future. Gudbranson was easily beaten wide on a few occasions. Better teams will make more of those opportunities. Gudbranson had an excellent look on goal after an Aston-Reese drop pass and showed no ability to change his shot angle or the awareness to bring puck to his backhand on what would have been a wide open goal. Offense isn’t going to be a realistic expectation. Of course we didn’t need to wait to see him with a Penguins jersey to know those were going to be weaknesses. We are going to have plenty of time with this player. At least we got a decent enough debut.
It was a bad night for the +/- crowd as Gudbranson was a -1 on the night. Now they can’t praise his acceptable debut.
Conor Sheary falls down a lot. He also had two goals and an assist in the Sabres victory including the game winner in overtime. He has a 1.82 points per 60 this year at 5v5. He has 22 even-strength points which is one more than Patric Hornqvist. He has 28 points overall which is tied with Patric Hornqvist. Sheary has played in nine more games than Hornqvist, but certainly does not have the luxury of playing with Crosby and Malkin anymore. He also doesn’t make 5.3M per year. The point is Sheary was a good value and the team threw it away voluntarily. Hagelin and Pearson both made more and did way less. The player that has picked up the slack for Sheary’s departure is Dominik Simon who is suffering from similar criticisms that Sheary did. He isn’t consistent enough. These complaints show a clear misunderstanding of the streakiness and variance of a sport that plagues even the best, which includes Alex Ovechkin who just set a record for most 45 goal seasons ever in the NHL.
Was the game winning goal offside? It was a very liberal interpretation of a player having control of the puck crossing the blue line. I am in favor of those kinds of plays not being blown dead. The frustrating thing is that the NHL takes goals away because a player’s skate is a millimeter off the ice. They need to eliminate the stipulation that a player’s skate has to be on the ice and focus more on breaking the plane or not. The blue line is in place to keep an intended structure to the game. It still serves that purpose with more lenient interpretations of possession and by not making the players be grounded to the ice.
Brandon Montour has looked the part for the Sabres so far since the trade. He had two points last night against the Penguins including the game tying goal late in the third. He’s the kind of defenseman the Penguins should have been hunting for in the 3-4M range. The Sabres should also act like he’s the type of defenseman they should have been hunting for. He should replace Rasmus Ristolainen on the top power play. Ristolainen was awful at passing the puck over to Eichel on the left circle. Very few times did Eichel get the puck in his wheelhouse to make a quick play. The penalty killers were given time to readjust on the majority of Ristolainen’s lame passes. This is supposed to be one of Ristolainen’s strengths.
The Sabres need to also act like they won the draft lottery. Rasmus Dahlin gets the third most minutes per game among Sabres defenders. His 37 points as an 18 year old defenseman are among the most ever. Who has the record? His coach Phil Housley (57). Maybe he’s trying to keep his record. That would make more sense than whatever other reason he has for not playing his best defenseman the most. It’s not in the realm of Barry Melrose’s handling of Steven Stamko, but he still has galaxy brain with Dahlin’s usage.
Sidney Crosby scored his 438th goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s now tied with Jaromir Jagr for second overall in franchise history. It did take Crosby 119 more games. It is a nice reminder of how dominant Jagr was and how lucky the Penguins are to have had both players.
We have ourselves a goaltending matchup tonight regardless of who starts for the Penguins. Carey Price is put on quite the pedestal, but his performance this year is right on par with both Penguins goaltenders. Price has a 5v5 save percentage of .927 while both Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith are at .926. Anaheim’s John Gibson is also at .926. Whatever was causing Murray to play like a bum at the beginning of the year has subsided. He has rebounded nicely and putting up respectable numbers.
Big two points tonight
Thanks for reading!