Penguins defeat Sabres to run winning streak to four games
After the Penguins' 5-1 victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night, coach Mike Sullivan — often stoic and serious when he's talking hockey — allowed himself the luxury of a smile.
After all, his team had just stretched its winning streak to four games, longest of the season.
He is surviving without his regular goaltender, with rookie Tristan Jarry ably replacing Matt Murray by allowing only one goal in two games over 24 hours.
And goals are going in the net off the sticks of third- and fourth-line players.
And, perhaps, the biggest reason for Sullilvan's grin was this: Someone asked about Patrick Hornqvist, who now has points in five consecutive games.
Accepting a pass from Sidney Crosby, who easily skated around the Sabres' Jack Eichel, Hornqvist scored his 10th goal of the season with a minute left in the second period to give the Penguins (15-10-3) a 3-0 lead and end any question about the outcome. Near the end of the game, Hornqvist returned the favor and assisted on Crosby's goal into an empty net.
“He's such a terrific teammate,” Sullivan said of Hornqvist. “He's just all about the Penguins. He just wants to win in the worst way. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. Sometimes that's good. Sometimes it's not so good.
“What we love about him is his care and his passion for the game and his passion for the team.”
Then, Sullivan offered, perhaps, the most significant compliment.
“He's a brave kid. He'll take a cross check in the front on the power play and take the goalie's sightlines away so other guys might get an opportunity, and he's happy to do it.”
The Penguins' big picture over the past week has included many more players than Hornqvist, however.
Finally, the team is getting contributions from its third and fourth lines. Saturday night, third-line winger Carl Hagelin scored only his second goal of the season and first in 20 games.
Hagelin took a pass from winger Bryan Rust, skated in front of goalie Chad Johnson while holding the puck for extended seconds and flipped it into the net. Ryan Sheahan also assisted.
“I looked like a goal scorer right there,” he said. “I kept my patience, kept skating around the net, pretty easy goal. There wasn't much else to shoot at. I tried to go around him, fake him a couple times, and it worked.”
Hornqvist, who skates on the first line with Crosby, is pleased that contributions are surfacing up and down the lineup. Tom Kuhnhackl, a fourth-line winger, scored on a penalty shot Friday.
“All four lines are going,” Hornqvist said. “Before that, it was one line at a time had a good game. Now, we're all playing really well and playing for each other.”
Jarry, who will be the Penguins' regular goaltender while Murray recovers from a lower-body injury, stopped 32 shots in his second of back-to-back games.
“Who would have known two weeks ago I would have been here?” he said. “It's a position I'm fortunate to be in.
“I was excited with the challenge. It's not something that happens too often at the NHL level. They wanted to see if I could do it, and I was up for the challenge.”