Some quick post-game observations after the Penguins’ first regulation loss on this NHL season, 3-2, to the Buffalo Sabres at Consol Energy Center:
= The Penguins didn’t win a game all last season during which they trailed entering the final period (0-19-1) and they are off to a similar start. Of course, this was the first game in which they trailed entering the third, and it was also their sixth game in 10 nights – not that coach Dan Bylsma would dare offer that as an excuse for this loss. “I don’t think in any way, shape or form (us) being tired factored into the equation tonight,” he said. “We should’ve been the fresher team playing tonight given the situation.”
The situation: Buffalo played on back-to-back nights for the second time in its five games. Still, the Penguins – and, yes, this has been mentioned by a certain someone before (ahem) – will have played eight games in 13 nights by Wednesday morning, with those contests coming in five cities and four time zones.
= Also, as my trusted Trib colleague Josh Yohe noted after this loss, three of the past four games – and the Penguins are 1-1-1 in those three – were without C Evgeni Malkin. As was demonstrated last season over the final two months without Malkin and C Sidney Crosby, the Penguins appear to exert such energy simply creating quality scoring chances without the “MegaPowers” pivots. Obviously, Crosby hasn’t played this season, and there is no timetable for his return.
As for Malkin’s status, well, I know the guy pretty well, and one thing has been consistent with him over my tenure covering him: He doesn’t fail to dress unless he’s really in pain, and he’ll never publicly admit how much pain he’s in. (Case in point: In the 2008 Cup Final, which he played without the ability to take deep breaths because of a rib/lung injury – well, Malkin still hasn’t publicly acknowledged that injury.)
I caught a glimpse of Malkin the other night, and I’m not sure how he played on Thursday against Washington – let alone deliver two assists. The right knee he had surgically repaired last February is flaring with troublesome scar tissue, or so I suspect based on asking a few questions of Penguins personnel this week. Malkin has spent a lot of time after practices – and more after the game Thursday – receiving treatment on that knee.
I’m wondering if it’s even worth taking him on this trip to Winnipeg and Minnesota, with back-to-back games in those cities. The Penguins are home next Thursday, and they are scheduled to be off Wednesday. If Malkin doesn’t take this trip that would give him six full days to rest that right knee dating to the last time he took the ice on Thursday.
= G Marc-Andre Fleury has battled the flu all week, and he still looks runs down to these eyes. Still, and he’d be the first one to say this, he’d like to have what became Buffalo’s winning goal back. It hasn’t happened often to Fleury dating to mid-November, but his angle wasn’t sharp on that one. I asked the wonderfully wise Eddie Johnston about that goal, and he agreed that it’s now surprising to see Fleury beat the way he was on that shot by Sabres RW Drew Stafford. Of course, that wasn’t exactly an ordinary shot by Mr. Stafford, was it?
= C Jordan Staal has two goals – one an empty netter, but those do count (and, sorry, but only a coach’s most trusted players tend to be on the ice on those situations) – and five points through six games, and after tonight he’s a plus-2. This was his fourth straight game at 20-plus minutes. Still, I’m supposed to not laugh at the Tweets/emails I’ve received over the past few days that said not only isn’t he a very good player, but that some people think he’s either overrated of flat-out stinks. It’s often said to me that I don’t really know hockey, which is fair – but I talk daily with a lot of people within hockey, and I can tell you this: Their comments about Staal are all similar, that you have to know hockey to realize how good he is and what he brings to every shift. How good much did anyone notice Capitals C Nicklas Backstrom or Sabres C Derek Roy the past two games? Who do you think was responsible for their combined three registered shots and four missed shots? Uh, yeah.
= The Sabres are a popular dark-horse pick to represent the East. It’s only one game, but with the way that defense can activate, I can see why people are picking them. Impressive-looking group, indeed.