- The Pens have now lost 3 out of their last 4 games and look nothing like the team that dominated the NHL over the last month. Sloppy defense and poor puck possession seem to be the biggest issues, along with horrible special teams. They have allowed an avg of 5 goals per game over the past week.
- Brent Johnson, Joe Vitale, and Matt Niskanen all return to the lineup. Bylsma suggested that Johnson might get one more start this season, so eye up April 3rd @ Boston for that one. Simon Despres and Eric Tangradi sit down for the other returns.
|If Johnson doesn't start again, I'm sure the Pirates have spots open in the outfield.|
- Buffalo provides a very formidable opponent right now. Ryan Miller is 10-1-2 this month and the Sabres are fighting the Caps for the last playoff spot in the East. Miller generally has not done well against the Pens, but he is on another level right now.
Pens 5 Sabres 3
Goals: Malkin (48) (PP) from Sullivan, Crosby
Crosby (5) from Sullivan, Dupuis
Neal (38) (PP) from Crosby, Malkin
Sullivan (15) from Dupuis, Crosby
Staal (25) (EN) from Orpik
- Evgeni Malkin recorded a new career high for goals at 48.
- Pascal Dupuis extended his point streak to a career high 13 games with an assist on Crosby’s goal. He also added to his career high point total, making it 54 now.
- Sidney Crosby became the 7th youngest player in NHL history to hit 600 career points. Just imagine what he could have done if he didn’t miss a year with that concussion…
- James Neal added to his career high totals in goals (38) and points (79).
- Brooks Orpik recorded his 100th assist on Staal’s empty netter.
- After a game in which the special teams was downright horrible, they were the big reason for tonight’s win. The powerplay went 2 for 3 and the penalty kill was 2 for 2 as we learned a couple lessons. First, the powerplay seems much better on the rush than when situated in place. Movement is the key for a group of 5 forwards and they appear to play much worse when they are settled into the zone, go figure. As for the penalty kill, the forwards were much more aggressive on the points and boards tonight and Buffalo had trouble getting chances because of it. It was a great game by both units (though I still want to see Dupuis on the 2nd PP).
- The Pens were also much less predictable in terms of forcing “stretch” passes and their puck possession was much better. If you take a look at a majority of the rushes, the Pens implemented a lot of weaving to open up players rather than just try to look for a long pass (same on the PP rushes as well). This helped them a) get the puck into the zone and b) have more players in to forecheck by the time a puck was behind the opposing net. It worked very well at times, though the Sabres also got some quick rushes the other way because of it. Regardless, it was a nice change of pace and worked tonight.
|"This isn't weaving for weaving's sake" It's clearly to get Neal wide open.|
- It was great to see Brent Johnson get a win and get some confidence back in his game. He admittedly started very shaky, which will keep him off the list below, but he looked better and better as the game went on and was back to his normal self in the 3rd period. That’s the Brent Johnson that we all know as a very dependable backup. His ability to shake off the bad start and move forward makes him a very valuable veteran (woo alliteration) to this team.
Sidney Crosby – His 3rd four point night of the season (points 598-601) let us know that he will simply own Ryan Miller no matter the circumstances. Sid didn’t even score a nice goal, Miller simply let up an awful 5-hotel shot (oddly familiar). But anyways, Crosby looked like his normal self, making absurdly perfect passes on his backhand and he had some good jump in his skates tonight as well. No ill effects from that puck to the face appear to be present.
Steve Sullivan – Sullivan scored on a beautiful “chip” from the slot and also had the primary assist on the first 2 goals. He makes a big difference on the 1st powerplay as he looks far more comfortable on the point than either Crosby or Malkin. The big aspect to his game that I did not expect this late in the season is his speed and agility. I honestly thought he might be dead for the season by this point. His fluid play and stellar passing have made him a great linemate for all of the stars on this team so far and tonight he shined brightest with it.
|Based on the pic, I'm pretty sure Sulli scored this with his mind.|
- Both goaltenders were just plain awful in the first period. Miller’s 5 hole seemed to score on himself when Crosby shot the puck for the Pens 2nd goal. Meanwhile, Johnson’s first goal allowed was no gem either. Many Pens fans will argue that it should have been goalie interference…I’m on the fence, that’s a tough call. But regardless, Johnson should have gloved and controlled that rebound so it wouldn’t have mattered anyways, that goal is still on him. His 2nd goal allowed was even worse as he clearly got caught anticipating a pass and Ennis beat him with on a 5 hole the size of...(inappropriate joke). Miller and Johnson rebounded very nicely as the game went on though.
|Crosby is Miller's kryptonite, no clue how this became a goal.|
- How about a broken stanchion to stop the play and tack on almost 2 minutes to the 3rd period as both teams went to intermission early. Seen that before? Actually, that wasn’t bad, just odd. The bad part was Steigerwald laughing about it and asking whether they would continue play as a 10 year old girl sat behind cracked glass. Not often that I say Bob Errey is a professional, but he absolutely was in reporting that they would probably go to intermission early and continue the game in the 3rd because it had to be fixed.
- I still don’t know how the Sabres 3rd goal happened. The puck was cleared up off the boards…no it wasn’t, it bounced somehow off the boards directly in front of Johnson, where only Tomas Vanek was standing. Root Sports AND MSG cameras all missed it as did 10 out of 12 players on the ice. Only Vanek and Johnson saw it and Vanek then beat Johnson all alone. Talk about crazy.
|Can't blame BJ on this one.|
- This game had the intensity of a playoff game and it’s about time the Pens reached that intensity after the 2 flops against the Isles. Some people see the daunting schedule ahead (Flyers, Bruins, Rangers, Flyers) and question whether the Pens can keep the 4th seed and if they are prepared. I disagree with that line of thought. This is the perfect schedule to ramp up into playoff mode and prepare for the grueling journey that is the NHL playoffs. By the time Game 1 starts, most likely against the Flyers, they will be battle-tested, ready, and already in playoff mode. That’s what you want, not a team going in after a bunch of layups.
- The Buffalo crowd, though seemingly half Pens fans, was simply magnificent to listen to on tv. I hope one day Consol can have a crowd like that. The crowd seriously made the game more enjoyable on tv, much like the Leafs, Canadiens, and Jets crowds are capable of. Pens fans need to take notice and make the effort in their own arena to build that kind of atmosphere.
- I meant to include this in my last recap, but it works even better here. I'm calling BS on everyone that says the Pens struggle without Letang. I understand he is incredibly important to this team, and undoubtedly makes the Pens much better, but he isn't the cause of their lack of defense over the past week. The Pens played fine without him a few weeks ago and even tonight. Letang is a stellar defenseman, I won't dispute that, but the Pens' problems are/were on account of their decision making and execution, not their personnel. The easy answer isn't always the right one, and that's the case in saying this team can't win without Letang as many did after 2 losses to the Isles.
- Time to look at Sunday, a 12:30pm matchup at home on NBC vs. the Flyers. First off – I’m never moving to the West Coast because can you imagine watching the Pens at 9:30am every other week? But moving on, this game is essentially the battle for 4th place. Beat the Flyers, and it’s a big 4 point swing that won’t clinch 4th, but makes it pretty easy to finish off. Lose it, and every game is a battle the rest of the way. The Flyers play Saturday vs. Ottawa, so the Pens need to come out extremely hard. Bryzgalov is not expected to start against the Pens, which is a huge bonus. Tonight may have been like a playoff game, but Sunday will demonstrate whether the Pens are playoff ready or not.
Pens Record: 48-24-6, 102 pts, 2nd in the Atlantic, 4th in the East
Next Game: 4/1 vs Phi, 12:30pm