Courtesy of Point Park University

One positive to Penguins’ awful opener: Regression’s all but impossible ☕


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Patric Hornqvist tries to split the Buffalo defense Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

OK, so the Penguins didn't get two points out of this game.

Or even one, for that matter.

Fact is, an awful lot about their 3-1 loss to the Sabres in the regular-season opener Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena seemed pointless, as well as point-less. But they did accomplish at least a few things while flat-lining their way through 60 mostly forgettable -- and regrettable -- minutes. At the very least, they made certain that Mike Sullivan and his staff would not have to conduct a frame-by-frame forensic analysis of the game tape to turn up issues worthy of addressing at practice Friday.

The coaches won't have to look hard, at all. Heck, their real challenge will be prioritizing the 10 or 15 that should be addressed first.

But hey, at least the Penguins all but guaranteed their showing Saturday night against the Blue Jackets will be an upgrade, if only because it's nearly impossible to regress. They did not, you see, simply lower the bar with this performance against the Sabres; they buried it.

Consider that the Penguins were credited with 17 -- yes, 17 -- giveaways. That's 11 more than Buffalo, and roughly the same as the number of breakaways and odd-man rushes that Matt Murray was forced to face.

"Obviously, we can't be giving teams three or four breakaways in a game and expect to win," Brian Dumoulin said. "We all -- myself, everyone -- have to do a better job of bearing down and making sure we don't give those chances up, because those are the ones that are daggers."

If not for Murray, the Penguins' margin of defeat might have looked a lot more like the Steelers' in their opener at New England.

"He was our best player," Sullivan said. "He made a lot of timely saves for us. He kept the game close. We have to be better in front of him."

The Penguins' problems weren't confined to that end of the ice, however. Although they managed 29 shots on Sabres goalie Carter Hutton, only three came from Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist, who made up the No. 1 line. That means those three combined for half as many shots as defenseman Justin Schultz threw at Hutton.

The tone of this game was set early, as the Sabres ran up a 14-3 edge in shots during the first 11:05. That stat was the by-product of an aggressive Buffalo forecheck that put the Penguins on their heels and, eventually, their backs.

"The way the game is played now, teams are hard on the forecheck," Murray said. "If you turn pucks over, they're going to get chances. And that's what happened tonight."

The Penguins, 15-0-3 in their previous 18 games against Buffalo, lost this game not only in regulation, but on merit. Aside from a few spurts of strong play by the Penguins, the Sabres were quicker. More focused. More willing to sweat and sacrifice to succeed.

"I don't think we came into the game saying, 'Oh, we're not going to work,' " Kris Letang said. "These things happen sometimes."

It's true that, over an 82-game season, there will be nights when attention is lacking, execution is sloppy and passion is absent.

But it shouldn't happen in an opener, when the age of a season still can be measured in minutes, and that clearly was the case in this one.

"We just weren't good enough tonight, in a lot of areas," Sullivan said.

That must change -- and quickly -- if the Penguins expect to be more than interested observers in the Eastern Conference playoff race, although the course of an entire season is not charted in a single game. Not when there are 81 to follow.

"We have a lot of hockey in front of us," Sullivan said. "I know this team is capable of being better."

The Penguins' first chance to prove it comes Saturday.

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