Jack Eichel made it two overtime winners in his two trips to Pegula Ice Arena as the Buffalo Sabres held off a third-period charge by the Pittsburgh Penguins to win 5-4 on Monday night.
In the grand scheme of the NHL calendar, the first preseason game of the year is far down the list of important moments, but it marks the official start to a new campaign and the first step in a long journey toward everyone’s lofty goals. There is optimism and excitement, hope and enthusiasm for the road ahead.
High above it all Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky watched from the suite level, shaking hands with the brass from both teams, mingling with members of his own staff.
And it had to feel like déjà vu.
Buffalo played a game that was the blueprint of the Nittany Lions’ own strengths and weaknesses. The Sabres outshot the Penguins 47-18 by the game’s end, but still only won in overtime. It was a three-goal comeback in the third period by the Penguins, shaky defense by a more talented Sabres roster that once held a 4-1 lead.
But then that lead shrank, and shrank and shrank. Suddenly the talent and the previous 40 minutes of solid opening night play didn’t matter all that much. As Ryan Haggerty scored with 8:46 gone by in the final period, none of it mattered with the game tied at 4-4.
The Sabres escaped thanks to Eichel’s heroics on a partial breakaway with eight seconds to go in the 3-on-3 overtime period, but the lesson was there to be learned for more than one team in the building.
In less than a month Penn State will open its season and try to avoid the same kind of third period letdowns and defensive lapses that have — at moments — rendered the nation’s most lethal offense slightly less potent than it ought to be. Every team has a bad night, or a bad period, but the Nittany Lions in attendance will have watched Monday night’s game knowing that they’ve lived it themselves.
The good news for fans of course is that Penn State is set to field the deepest and most talented roster in the program’s history. There will be goals, that much can be assured, and if roster additions on the defensive end can help slow the drip of pucks into the Nittany Lions’ net then Penn State will head into 2020 with legitimate title dreams.
So it’s not all doom and gloom. Penn State is, on paper, a contender, but the parallels were too hard to ignore.
The Sabres fielded a better team, dominated and still nearly lost.
And if Penn State can learn from the pros, then maybe one of the more insignificant moments in the NHL calendar can be a bigger moment in the Nittany Lions’ season before it ever begins.