The Pittsburgh Penguins have finished the 2020-21 season with a 37-16-3 record after a 1-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. The game was not ideal for the Penguins, as they seemed to get outplayed all game. However, all that matters is that they got the win. Here are some things to note from this game.
Maxime Lagace Has an Elite Debut
Who would have expected Maxime Lagace to be the bright spot of the game for the Penguins? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. The Saint-Augustin native saved all 29 shots he faced, along with a 2.19 goals saved above expected (GSAx) and became the first goaltender in franchise history to record a shutout in their debut with the team.
Lagace, 28, came over from the Boston Bruins organization during free agency last October, and was not projected to get any ice time this season, with the Penguins already having their tandem of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. However, when both goaltenders were out with day-to-day injuries, he got the nod and made his debut.
Lagace had a 4-3-2 record with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League this season, posting a .907 save percentage. This was his first appearance in the NHL since the 2018-19 season, and his first victory since Dec. 9, 2017, during the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season. (from ‘Penguins to start goaltender Maxime Lagace in regular season finale,’ Trib Live, 05/09/2021)
If Jarry and DeSmith are unable to return in time for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, maybe we can see a Jeff Zatkoff type of game from Lagace.
Jeff Carter Gets His 399th Career Goal
The Penguins tried their hardest to get Jeff Carter a second goal after his first, even putting him on the ice for the last 30 seconds of the game when the Sabres had an empty net, but he will have to wait for next season to get his 400th career goal.
Carter, 36, finished the regular season on a very high note, with five goals in his last two games, and nine goals since being acquired by the team, he led all players who were traded at the deadline in goals by the end of the season. His quick speed and shoot-first mentality is going to come in big for the team come playoff time.
Along with his goal, Carter had a 61.75 expected goals percentage (xG%), mainly due to his offensive play, as his line with Jared McCann and Frederick Gaudreau was the teams best for creating high-quality scoring chances, with a combined 1.79 expected goals for (xGF) as a trio.
Evgeni Malkin Fine After Collision
Penguins fans were freaking out all over social media when Evgeni Malkin collided with Sabres forward Dylan Cozens, and did not play the final eight minutes of the game. However it appears that he is fine and healthy after the collision. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan stated that, “[Malkin] thought he tweaked something on that collision. He got checked out afterward and felt fine. We don’t anticipate any issues moving forward. We held him out for precautionary reasons.”
Malkin played 13:58, winning two faceoffs and landing at the bottom of the team in expected goals percentage, with 25.61 percent. Analytically, he was the team’s worst offensive player, and his line with Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker was the team’s worst, by far.
Team Must Be Better Going Forward
Despite getting the win, the Penguins were actually outplayed by the Sabres, and got bailed out by amazing goaltending from Lagace, who as stated earlier, saved over two goals above expected.
The Penguins were beat in expected goals (xG), from 2.19 to 1.66, and had just a 44.4 percent on Moneypuck’s Deserve to Win O’Meter. Obviously, one game isn’t the end of the world, especially when the team won, but they just looked a little lazy on the ice.
If the team gets the New York Islanders in the first round, it will be much better for their championship chances, and give them time to ease into getting back to playing their game.