When Antti Niemi was signed this past off-season, there were many who groaned. There were people who said, “Give the kid a chance”, just because a player is a veteran doesn’t mean they are better than a Rookie. It’s a long season, there are still 55 games left to play, but Tristan Jarry stoned the Buffalo Sabres, 4 – 0. Welcome to the NHL!
Okay, so Buffalo is struggling, but the kid stood on head in the face of the usual defensive breakdowns surrendered by the Penguins Defensemen. Jarry flashed the leather on several occasions, en route to stopping 34 shots on goal. Buffalo missed the net an additional 9 times and the Penguins “team D” blocked 14 more, giving the Sabres 57 total shot attempts. If I had to pick a favorite save, it had to be the desperate pad save he made in the second period on, I believe, Sam Reinhart.
However, the story of the game tonight was more than just the stellar play from Jarry, who grabbed the number 1 star of the game, Sidney Crosby and Tom Kuhnhackl also had very strong games netting goals and the number 2 and 3 Stars of the Game. The game also so the return of Evgeni Malkin from injury and Ian Cole from press box banishment.
Kuhnhackl started the team rolling bursting into the Sabres zone forcing Sabres’ Defenseman Victor Antipin to hook him, giving Kuhnhackl a Penalty Shot. Personally, I hope Mike Sullivan watched that Penalty Shot and returns Kuhnhackl back to Right Wing. Like a lot of Europeans, Kuhnhackl likes to skate his off-wing. On the Penalty Shot, Kuhnhackl drove to his right as he started the Penalty shot then cut back through the slot causing Robin Lehner, the Sabres’ Goalie to follow him across the crease, before ripping a wrist shot back against the grain over Lehner’s glove. Kuhnhackl credited Evgeni Malkin with giving him the idea of going high glove side but I can’t but think it may have been more related to comfort levels.
Because of the stellar play of Jarry, particularly in the second period, that Goal, was all our “Boys of Winter” needed. It was Kuhnhackl’s first goal of the season, the Game Winning Goal, and a Penalty Shot Goal.
Crosby, doubled the lead about 3 minutes later. Kuhnhackl didn’t get an assist on the play, but the pressure he put on Rasmus Ristolainen caused the Sabres Defenseman make a bad pass that Crosby picked off before following Kuhnhackl with a duplicate wrist shot over Lehner’s glove.
Malkin picked up an assist in his first game back from injury setting up Jake Guentzel for the Penguins‘ third goal. Guentzel sort of started the play himself, cleaning up his own end by picking up a big rebound that Jarry kicked up to his left face-off circle. Guentzel wheeled around quickly and found Malkin with a short pass, before speeding past “Geno” up the wing. Carrying the mail up the ice, Malkin returned the favor with a pass that Guentzel had to knock down before swooping behind the net and with the help of his extra-long stick beat Lehner to the far post and slipped a wrap-around goal into the net.
Ian Cole literally made his presence felt, dishing out 3 hits; just ask Evander Kane. With less than 3 minutes in the second period, the Sabres were set to break into the Penguins zone, but Cole stepped up, a la Ulf Samuelsson, and delivered a hard open ice hit on the Sabres’ tough guy.
Patric Hornqvist closed out the scoring thanks to the hard-work of Crosby and Conor Sheary. The mojo may be coming back to the bread-and-butter tandem. It appeared that the two of them had radar, cycling and passing the puck around below Lehner’s crease on his stick side. Finally, Sheary found Hornqvist skating down the slot (Another game with a Penguin barging his way into the dirty area of the slot, but then again, it was Hornqvist; that is his office!)
There is no time to rest. Our Penguins host the same Buffalo Sabres again, on the back end of back-to-back series number 8. Will Mike Sullivan give the kid, Jarry, the start to reward him on his shut-out or will Casey DeSmith get his first NHL start? Regardless of who starts, will the goalie be able to back-up the continual sloppy play in the defensive zone with incredible saves? The game got real chippy near the end, will Sullivan give Ryan Reaves more ice-time? Will Kane and/or Ristolainen come after the Penguins’ players?
Tune in next time.
Odds and Ends:
Josh Archibald was sent down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for conditioning. The under-used Right Winger picked up a Goal and an Assist in his first action down there to help the Baby Penguins beat the Milwaukee Admirals 5 – 4 in OT, tonight as well. Garrett Wilson, who seems all but forgotten down there, registered a Hat Trick to lead the way. J.S. Dea got the game winner from Lukas Bengtsson and Domink Simon. Despite the parent club raiding both of their starting goalies, Clark Donatelli kept the Baby Penguins winning behind Colin Stevens’ Goaltending.