Sabres coach Dan Bylsma returned to Pittsburgh for the first time since being fired by the Penguins in 2014. During his time in Pittsburgh, Bylsma brought home 1 Stanley Cup title, 2 appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals, 2 division titles, and 6 consecutive playoff appearances.
In the first Pittsburgh came out fast and had Buffalo on their heels. Pittsburgh converted a minute in with a goal from Dupris off a shot originally from Crosby. Seven minutes later Hornqvist behind the right faceoff circle ripped a shot after a nice pass from Crosby. But the Sabres responded with a good forecheck in the back half of the period and McGinn tipped in a shot from Ristolanien. Just a minute and twenty seconds later O’Reilly setup Deslauriers in front of the Pittsburgh net to tie it at 2-2.
For the first 10 minutes 2nd Buffalo actually carried the play and had some nice chances. The Sabres first power play of the game had some good looks, but when the penalty to Pittsburgh expired Lovejoy and Malkin converted a partial two on one with Lovejoy scoring to put Pittsburgh back up 3-2. Then Mike Weber took a bad tripping penalty six minutes later, which resulted in a Malkin power play goal and a 4-2 Pittsburgh lead.
Buffalo absolutely dominated in the 3rd period, peppering Zatkoff with 25 shots compared to just 4 shots for Pittsburgh. However Buffalo got a little bad luck on a McGinn backhander which stopped on the goal line 5:55 in. Despite heavy pressure on Zatkoff, Buffalo was not able to score. With time running out Bylsma pulled the Johnson with three to go and Moulson rewarded him just 30 seconds later with his third of the year. The Sabres were not able to finish the comeback though and failed to score on the powerplay during the last 1:51.
Before the game the Penguins paid tribute to Dan for his years there and the success he had. Perhaps Crosby and Malkin felt inspired by his presence because not more then a minute into the period Crosby shot the puck high on Johnson, which fell and was jammed home by Pascal Dupuis. For the first 13 minutes the Penguins flew into the Sabres zone at will, with the Sabres at points having three men crowded in front watching Pittsburgh do what they wanted. Hornqvist scored off of another nice pass from Sidney Crobsy to put Pittsburgh up 2-0 seven minutes in. During the first 13 minutes of the 1st Buffalo was outshot 9-3.
The Sabres did not panic though, the O’Reilly line started the push back with some nice fore checking down low that kept the puck in to start to give Buffalo some scoring opportunities. With a little more then five and half to go in the first, the Sabres won the draw to Ristolanien who ripped one from the point which deflected off Schaller and McGinn proceeded to deflect in to get Buffalo within one. The O’Reilly line with Foligno and Deslauriers took the puck right back down and O’Reilly fed a beautiful pass from behind the net to Deslauriers in front who ripped it home to tie the game at 2-2.
Pittsburgh got behind the Sabres defense one more time before the end of the period with Patric Hornqvist getting a semi-breakaway chance on Chad Johnson going to the backhand, but Johnson made a nice save to keep things even at 2.
Overall the Sabres started flat allowing Pittsburgh to put a lot of pressure on and convert two early opportunities. Buffalo’s younger players may have respected the Penguins a little too much early, but the Sabres responded nicely with the O’Reilly line leading the way back into the game and strong forecheck.
The first 10 minutes were even for the most part. Foligno continued his good play with a hard hit on Lovejoy against the Pittsburgh bench. Schaller drew a slashing penalty on a partial breakaway 6 minutes in. The Sabres powerplay got some great chances, but at the end Eichel made some strong moves to cut around the Pittsburgh defense, but his shot went wide. The penalty had just ended and Lovejoy took the puck out of the box down the ice to feed it to Malkin, who stopped and fed Lovejoy a nice pass to right of Johnson who had no chance making it 3-2 Pittsburgh.
The back half of the 2nd Pittsburgh controlled play a little bit more and converted on the powerplay to regain a two goal lead. Mike Weber took a bad tripping penalty on Hornqvist which led to a lot of Pittsburgh pressure. Kessel ripped a shot from the left faceoff circle which Hornqvist passed to Malkin who was sitting by the right post and put in easy. The O’Reilly line had some good pressure late, but Zatkoff held his ground.
Buffalo kept a strong forecheck for the majority of the period and they threw everything they had at Pittsburgh. The Sabres showed a good amount of urgency early on in the period and were almost rewarded 5:55 in when Jamie McGinn’s backhander snuck by Zatkoff but dribbled to a stop by the left post right on the goal line.
The Sabres couldn’t finish it off and Pittsburgh was able to clear the zone. Buffalo continued to pour it on and with just about three minutes left in the period Bylsma took the risk of pulling the goaltender for an extra skater.
He was rewarded with this gamble when Matt Moulson redirected a Ryan O’Reilly shot for his 3rd of the year with a wrist shot over Zatkoff’s left shoulder. Down 4-3, Buffalo kept pushing and got a little lucky with a power play when Kris Letang iced the puck out of play for delay of game.
Despite the Sabres having the 7th ranked power play in the league they couldn’t convert and time ran out for a 4-3 Pittsburgh win. Probably the best chance of the power play was when Eichel, sitting on the left circle ripped a pass in front which Girgensons couldn’t convert on.
The Sabres looked like a young talented team tonight. Part of being young is learning how to play with the big boys and in the first two periods Pittsburgh’s top guy’s like Crosby, Malkin, & Hornqvist had their way in the Sabres zone.
The Sabres defense will welcome the addition of Bogosian back soon because the Sabres kept breaking down defensively all night when Pittsburgh entered the zone, allowing room for the Penguins to pass and setup for shots.
That said, the Sabres deserve credit for battling back down 2-0 to tie it and again down 4-2 to put it within 1 goal. A very encouraging sign in the first 10 games is the ability of Buffalo to start converting more scoring chances.
During their first five games of the season Buffalo had a hard time converting scoring opportunities that were not on the powerplay. At one point they had more powerplay goals (9 ppg to 7 even) then even strength.
These last five games though Buffalo has scored three or more goals in three of the five games. I would expect next game between Buffalo and Pittsburgh for the Sabres probably not to respect the Penguins as much early on.
Once Buffalo started using their bodies and forechecking deeper into the Penguins zone this game got a lot closer and Buffalo proved to be at least a worthy competitor which is welcomed improvement compared to last year.
Ryan O’Reilly- He is now at a ppg pace with two assists tonight. O’Reilly may not be as flashy as some of the top players in the league, but he certainly has the skills of a top center and his vision is spectaular.
All game he kept driving possession for the Sabres and creating scoring chances for Buffalo. His assist to Deslauriers was one of beauty and great vision. In the first 10 games he has been Buffalo’s best player and made removed any doubt about the contract Buffalo signed him to in summer.
Rasmus Ristolainen- He really is developing nicely into an upper echelon defensemen in the NHL. The first Sabres goal was a nice shot by Risto from the point something he seems to have a real knack for doing.
He broke up a lot of Pittsburgh rushes all night and in the 3rd did an excellent job keeping pressure at the point in the Pittsburgh end. The 3rd Pittsburgh goal he did the right thing covering the shooter in front and Reinhart couldn’t get back in time to mark Lovejoy as he came in.
It was hard to blame Risto on that play. One other really nice thing with Risto is his short-term memory and his ability to not get frustrated on a play like that. For a 20 year old defenseman his maturity is impressive.
Cody Franson- The veteran defensemen had a rough outing. He was on the ice for the first two goals of the evening and seemed stuck in mud trying to cover anyone. With a young team like the Sabres you would like to see an older veteran like Franson show more composure and leadership. He also had two giveaways during the game which resulted in Pittsburgh scoring chances.
Sabres Powerplay- The Sabres powerplay has been much improved this season, but tonight they went 0-2 and directly influenced the 3rd Pittsburgh goal when Buffalo had been controlling most of the 2nd.
Whether it was a communication breakdown or someone forgot to cover the point, the Sabres had four players far up past the faceoff circles in Pittsburgh end when Eichel’s shot went around the boards.
Ristolainen was left out to dry against Lovejoy and Malkin with Reinhart failing to get back in time to pickup Lovejoy. On a night when the Sabres got 53 shots and had good pressure on the power play, the failure to convert one of those chances and create a Pittsburgh goal loom as one of the reasons they lost.
Eichel did a nice job in the first getting Buffalo out of the intense Pittsburgh forecheck the Penguins put on and ripped a nice shot on Zatkoff. Both Reinhart and Eichel looked a little tired tonight, but at the end of the game Eichel had some nice passes to try and setup the game winning goal. The talent is there and I believe given another 10 games under his belt you will see some of these nice passes become assists.
The Sabres finish their Pennsylvania road trip with a 1-1 record and return home to play the Flyers tomorrow night at 7:00 pm.