It was a mismatch on paper and on the ice Wednesday night for the Buffalo Sabres.
Facing a lineup full of players who won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, the Sabres endured a 5-1 preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
Phil Kessel scored two goals late in the first period to put the Penguins ahead for keeps as Pittsburgh improved to 2-2-1 in the preseason. The Sabres lost their fourth straight and fell to 2-4.
Most of the Sabres' top players were held out of this one after playing Tuesday night in Clinton in the Hockeyville USA game against Columbus. Among the missing were Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Jeff Skinner, Rasmus Dahlin and Jake McCabe.
The lineups: The Sabres' top line was Vladimir Sobotka centering Alexander Nylander and Jason Pominville. Johan Larsson was between Scott Wilson and Justin Bailey, Casey Mittelstadt centered Zemgus Girgensons and Tage Thompson and Rasmus Asplund was the fourth-line center with Victor Olofsson and Nicholas Baptiste on the wings.
The defense pairs were Marco Scandella-Matt Tennyson, Lawrence Pilut-Will Borgen and Nathan Beaulieu-Taylor Fedun. Linus Ullmark went the route in goal, making 27 saves as the Penguins had a 32-22 advantage in shots.
Conversely, Pittsburgh had its top two lines intact (Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hörnqvist, Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel), its top defense pair of Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang and played starting goaltender Matt Murray.
Double trouble: Kessel opened the scoring on a breakaway at 17:23 of the first period and then scored again with six seconds left in the period, beating Ullmark on a quick shot over the left shoulder.
Lone goal: Alexander Nylander got the Sabres within 2-1 at 6:50 of the second period, converting a give-and-go with Jason Pominville but that was the extent of the Sabres' scoring.
Quick response: Pittsburgh restored its two-goal lead 32 seconds later when Letang scored on a long wrist shot from the point.
Pens pull away: Pittsburgh turned the game into a blowout with two goals in 13 seconds, as Derick Brassard scored a power-play goal at 16:54 of the second period and Matt Cullen tallied on a rebound at 17:07.
Sabres coach Phil Housley on the loss: "You're playing a pretty good hockey team, the two-time Stanley Cup champions, and I thought it was a valuable lesson for our guys to learn. The execution and speed and the battle that you have to play with. It might have been an eye-opener for some guys but just the experience alone is going to help them in their development."
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) September 27, 2018
On the shelf again: Veteran defenseman Zach Bogosian was injured early in the third period Tuesday in Clinton and is listed as day to day with a lower-body injury. Housley said this injury is not related to the second-ending hip surgery Bogosian had in February.
Maybe off the shelf: Housley said winger Conor Sheary, acquired in a June trade from Pittsburgh, could return to practice as soon as Thursday. Sheary suffered an upper-body injury on the second day of training camp and has not played in any of the six games.
More injuries: Center Johan Larsson took a shot to the foot late in the first period and limped to the bench. He took one shift in the second period and left the game for good. There was no update on his condition. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen took the morning skate in Buffalo and then did not attend the game, with Housley saying he was nursing a minor upper-body injury and could practice Thursday. Borgen took his place.
Heading to Rochester: The team made five more cuts Wednesday afternoon to pare its roster to 37 players. Headed to camp in Rochester are goaltender Jonas Johansson and forwards Kyle Criscuolo, Andrew Oglevie, Danny O'Regan and C.J. Smith.
Oglevie, O'Regan and Smith all played for the Sabres in their loss to Columbus Tuesday in Clinton at the annual Hockeyville USA preseason game. Oglevie and Smith, in particular, have had good showings in training camp. Oglevie, signed in June as a college free agent out of Notre Dame, is the only Sabre with two goals in the preseason.
The Sabres have 20 forwards, 14 defensemen and three goalies remaining in camp.
On the calendar: The team announced its plans for "Opening Weekend" for its first three home games, featuring a party in Alumni Plaza prior to the Oct. 4 home opener against Boston, the Oct. 6 visit by the New York Rangers and the Oct. 8 Columbus Day matinee against Vegas. There will be a T-shirt giveaway for the home opener, a magnetic schedule giveaway for the game against the Rangers and a "One Buffalo" car magnet for the visit by the Golden Knights. Music, food and beverages and family-friendly activities are also on the schedule.
Farm team in Buffalo: The Rochester Amerks play their annual preseason game in HarborCenter Thursday night at 7 against the defending Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies. Tickets are $10 and all seats are general admission.
What's next for the Sabres: The team practices Thursday at noon in HarborCenter and the two sessions are open the public. The final preseason game is Friday night in Oshawa, Ont. against the New York Islanders.