On Tuesday the Buffalo Sabres saw their two-game win streak come to an end with a 3-1 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Five observations from Tuesday's loss:
Rasmus Ristolainen's hit on Jake Guentzel is all about perspective so just hear me out...
GIF: Ristolainen gets a game-misconduct for this hit on Guentzel. pic.twitter.com/08O7GztgcG
— Benstonium (@Benstonium) March 21, 2017
If you're a Sabres fan you probably don't think this deserved a game misconduct. Some of you might even think it was a clean hit. However, if you're a Penguins die-hard perhaps you believe this was one the dirtiest hit of the season.
Allow me to make the case for thinking somewhere in the middle.
Yes, I think it was a penalty and Guentzel clearly didn't have the puck, but I don't know if it deserved a misconduct. That being said, I can see the argument for the ejection -- While it looked like Ristolainen backed into the Penguins forward with his rear-end it also looked like he may have caught Guentzel with an elbow.
In the above replay you can see Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons deflect the pass that was heading right for Guentzel. While it's never safe to assume, I think it's fair to think Ristolainen was planning on hitting Guentzel right when he touched the puck. Momentum clearly didn't work in Ristolainen's favor as he collided with Guenztel.
The hit was deemed a major penalty which means the league will now look into whether or not a suspension is warranted. Considering Ristolainen's past history and the play I don't think he'll be punished any further, but we won't know about that for a few days.
Still the best player in the world
It didn't hurt that Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges parted like the Red Sea and left the middle of the ice wide open -- but the first goal of the game was simply magic from Sidney Crosby. He beat Lehner with a one-handed backhander. A ONE-HANDED BACKHANDER!
Sidney Crosby is simply spectacular. pic.twitter.com/xZRxeGuRCU
— NHL (@NHL) March 21, 2017
Whenever Crosby's on the ice you find yourself following his every move. He makes plays out of nothing and creates chances out of seemingly nothing. There's a reason he has 41 goals and 81 points in 66 games played.
That being said, it's ludicrous that this wasn't a penalty.
Sidney Crosby ladies and gents. pic.twitter.com/JkvwvSo3TG
— Aivis Kalni?š (@A_Kalnins) March 21, 2017
Here's what Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma said about the play.
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) March 22, 2017
Goals would be cool
In the Sabres last 10 games they have 21 goals. In their last five games, they have only scored six (!) times. It's hard to win hockey games when you can't find the back of the net. On Monday against the Red Wings the Sabres relied on their power play. On Tuesday against the Penguins they had only one man-advantage opportunity and couldn't convert.
Lehner back-to-back Jordan 96, 97, Woahhhhh
For the second game in as many nights Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner played exceptional, stopping 32 of Pittsburgh's 35 shots. He bailed the Sabres out of multiple odd-man-rushes in the first and second period keeping the Sabres within striking distance, but let in two late goals that cost the Sabres.
Don't get me wrong, he doesn't deserve the blame, especially on the third goal that went in off of Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons. After the game, Lehner said he didn't see the shot from Penguins forward Nick Bonino that gave the Pens a 2-1 lead. He added that he thought he played pretty well and if you ask me that's underselling it.
As of late, Lehner has been one of the Sabres best and most consistent performers. He's allowed two four-goal games in March but he hasn't gotten much help from an incredibly depleted blue line. Aside from his shootout woes, which I think will eventually disappear, there's a lot to like about Lehner moving forward.
Life without Ristolainen
The Buffalo Sabres certainly missed their best defender on Tuesday but despite a few mishaps, their other defensemen did a pretty good job stepping up. Bogosian, for example, played more than 33 minutes, which is absolutely insane.
After the game, both Gorges and Bogosian said they could've cleaned things up in the second period but I thought they did a really good job killing off the five-minute major penalty in the first period. That could've been a disaster.
Undoubtedly Bogosian and Gorges biggest blunder came on Crosby's goal, but aside from that play, I thought they were alright for a good chunk of the game.