PITTSBURGH — Conor Sheary authored one of the more iconic moments in the recent history of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sheary, a 27-year-old winger, scored the overtime goal in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final at PPG Paints Arena in 2016, and the Penguins went on to win their first of consecutive championships. Now, Sheary is a thorn in the side of his former fans and teammates.
Sheary scored two goals, including one on the power play in the second period, to help the Buffalo Sabres open their 50th season with a 3-1 win over the Penguins in PPG Paints Arena on Thursday night. He has scored four goals among six points in four games against his former team. More important, Sheary is making a strong first impression on Sabres coach Ralph Krueger and is showing that he could help address the team's need for supplementary scoring.
Sheary opened the scoring with a wrist shot from the right circle at 5:23 into regulation and broke a 1-1 tie at 14:03 into the second period with a shot from the slot. The latter power-play sequence began when Colin Miller fired a slap shot from the point, and Casey Mittelstadt managed to poke the loose puck over to Sheary, whose wrist shot beat goalie Matt Murray.
Sheary, who was acquired along with Matt Hunwick from Pittsburgh in June 2018, scored 14 goals among 34 points in 78 games during his first season with Buffalo and is only two years removed from scoring a career-high 23 goals with the Penguins.
However, Sheary admits he put too much pressure on himself to produce during the second half of last season. After all, he was acquired to contribute offensively behind Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart. Sheary had a strong preseason under Krueger and appeared to be a candidate to start the season on the top line.
Sheary suffered a lower body injury during camp and was held out of the preseason finale as a precaution. He returned to practice and his line — which also included Mittelstadt and Jimmy Vesey — was the Sabres' best for most of the game against the Penguins.
Opening salvo: Sheary's first goal would not have been possible without Mittelstadt. The 20-year-old center made an excellent pass to find Sheary, who skated through the right circle and scored on a shot over Murray's blocker.
Mittelstadt, who had a slow start to training camp, finished with two assists, his second multi-point game since Nov. 3, 2018.
Close call: Zemgus Girgensons must love playing against Pittsburgh. Five days after scoring here in the preseason finale, the winger gathered a loose puck in the neutral zone following a Penguins turnover and nearly scored a shorthanded goal in the first period. However, Murray managed to stop Girgensons backhanded breakaway shot. Kyle Okposo also had a failed breakaway attempt in the second period.
Penguins rally: The Sabres out-shot Pittsburgh, 14-3, though the first 11 minutes of regulation, but Murray only needed to stop two pucks for the rest of the period. The Penguins, meanwhile, had 10 shots on goal during that span. Sabres goalie Carter Hutton looked sharp through 20 minutes and managed to stop the only high-danger scoring chance he faced, Brandon Tanev's shot from below the left faceoff dot.
Tying goal: Evgeni Malkin tied the score, 1-1, at 5:50 into the second period with a slap shot from the left circle. Hutton was unable to see the shot because he was being screened by Patric Hornqvist.
Dahlin shines: Rasmus Dahlin had a difficult start to his second season opener in the National Hockey League. He struggled to break the puck out of his own end in the first period and appeared hesitant on the power play. The 19-year-old defenseman proceeded to remind everyone why he is regarded as one of the league's top young talents.
Dahlin joined an offensive rush with Sam Reinhart, skated past Penguins center Teddy Blueger and received a pass near the slot before lifting the puck over Murray's shoulder for a 3-1 lead with 44 seconds left in the second period.
Lineup decisions: Forward Evan Rodrigues and defenseman John Gilmour were the Sabres' healthy scratches.
Next: The Sabres will practice Friday in LECOM Harborcenter and host the New Jersey Devils for the home opener at 7 p.m. Saturday.