Penguins lose lackluster season opener at home to Sabres
The Penguins entered the season with the potential of returning to the days when they were the faster, more dynamic team on the ice.
And Thursday, they saw one of the key players from their two most recent Stanley Cup championship teams generate ample offense as he dashed and darted all over the ice.
The only problem was it was Conor Sheary.
The former Penguins winger scored two goals, including the winner, and led the Sabres to a 3-1 victory against the Penguins, who bumbled and staggered their way through a gaffe-filled season-opener at PPG Paints Arena.
“We (were) not good enough,” forward Evgeni Malkin said. “They (were) hungry. They played so much faster. I think we liked played only 30 minutes. It’s young guys, a young league right now. We need to play faster, we need to play hungry. How we played tonight, we need to change.”
The Penguins were hoping to alter how they looked during their feeble four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Islanders during the first round of last year’s postseason. Instead, it almost appeared as if they were playing Game 5 of that series.
The Sabres struck first at 5 minutes, 23 seconds of the first period. After Penguins forward Jake Guentzel fumbled a puck on his own right half-wall, Sabres forward Casey Mittlestadt emerged with it and fed a pass from above the right circle to Sheary below the right dot. Sheary lifted a wrister which fluttered past the blocker of goaltender Matt Murray.
The Penguins tied the score at 5:50 of the second period with a power-play goal. Defenseman Kris Letang controlled the puck at the right point, surveyed the offensive zone and moved a pass to Malkin above the left circle. Moving towards the dot, Malkin gripped and ripped a wrister which glanced off of Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen’s stick and past the left leg of goaltender Carter Hutton. Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist provided a screen on the sequence. Assists went to Letang and Sidney Crosby.
Buffalo went up by two late in the second at the 19:16 mark. Off a pass from center Sam Reinhart, Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin got in deep on the right wing, fended off Letang and lifted a backhander past the glove of Murray on the near side.
Though the Penguins generated their lone goal on the power play, they failed to fully capitalize with the man advantage as they were ineffective with three opportunities during the third period alone. With six minutes of power-play time — including a six-on-four sequence with goaltender Matt Murray pulled for an extra attacker — they had only four shots on net.
“Every power play, you need to play hard,” Malkin said. “You need to work. If they give us a chance to play the power play for two minutes, play hungry with the puck in the corner. Play right. Our breakout, nobody wants the puck. We just kicked it around, like (Letang) had the puck, but nobody supported him.”
Sheary provided his current employer plenty of support as evidenced by his two goals.
“You just want to prove to people that you can still play,” Sheary said. “You kind of get the feeling that someone doesn’t want you when they trade you, and I think I took that to heart.”
The Penguins could have used a bit more heart to open their season.
“Overall, for 60 minutes, they wanted it more than us,” Letang said. “And I think that’s where we lost it.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .