The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Sunday night to regain the Atlantic Division lead alongside the New Jersey Devils. After 59 games, the Penguins and the Devils amazingly share the exact same record (33-21-5) with 71-points, just 2-points behind the Eastern Conference leading Ottawa Senators. Penguins goaltender Ty Conklin had another superb night in net as he turned aside 36-shots on goal to claim the game’s 1st star, and kept the Penguins in the game despite an offensive onslaught by the Sabres early on. Red hot Evgeni Malkin continued his surge as he picked up 2-more points (1G, 1A) to pull within 1-point of Alexander Ovechkin for the NHL scoring lead.
In the 1st period, it was all Buffalo as they outshot the Penguins 17-6. Despite the lopsided play, Ty Conklin stood on his head, kept everything out of the net and kept the Penguins in the game. The rest of the Penguins team continued their lackluster play of late throughout much of the period. Aside from failing to keep their feet moving, they made some bad passes that resulted in turnovers. As a result, the Sabres had the Penguins chasing the play through much of the period. The Penguins managed to weather a lone penalty kill when Georges Laraque took a questionable roughing call at 3:05.
In the 2nd, the Penguins got on the board first with a breakaway chance by Jarkko Ruutu as he emerged from the Penalty box at 7:28. At the expiration of his 2-minute hooking call, Ruutu stepped onto the ice and skated to his own blueline before wheeling around towards the Sabres net and taking a long up-ice pass from Ryan Malone for the breakaway on Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller. Ruutu made a couple of moves and then beat Miller on the backhand. Rob Scuderi picked up the other assist. Just 2-minutes later, Petr Sykora scored a power play goal on a 2-on-1 break with Evgeni Malkin to put the Penguins up 2-0. Malkin attempted the shot, but it was deflected by the lone Sabres’ defenseman and bounced in front of Sykora who whacked it out of the air and into the net behind Miller. At 14:45, Buffalo drew within one when Thomas Vanek wristed a power play goal while Colby Armstrong sat for an unsportsmanlike conduct call. Derek Roy and Jason Pominville were credited with the assists. The Penguins were outshot 10-6 in the 2nd and were 1-for-2 on the power play and 2-for-3 on the penalty kill.
In the final frame, Evgeni Malkin picked up his 34th goal of the season at 8:13 as he drove the net hard and poked in a rebound as Max Talbot and Petr Sykora crashed the net. Malkin’s momentum carried him into the net with the puck after the goal was scored, but the hungry scorer was quick to come back out with a fist pump and a bounce off the glass to celebrate. Talbot and Sykora were credited with the assists. Trailing by 2-goals, the Sabres pulled Miller with 57-seconds left to go in the game. Colby Armstrong took advantage of the open cage by flipping the puck past two defenders from the blueline, with the puck finding its way right into the middle of the net. Ryan Malone was credited with the assist, his 2nd of the night. The Penguins outshot the Sabres in the 3rd 13-10 and were o-for-1 on the powerplay and 1-for-1 on the kill.
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“Certainly we had to weather a bit of a storm early, but I think we got our legs under us as the game went on,” said Conklin, now 15-4-3. “We capitalized on our breaks.” Coach Therrien was quick to credit Conklin on his play, “When your goalie’s giving you the performance like Ty gave us, it gives your team some confidence. He’s a big part of the reason why we had success.” One has to hope that the Penguins have awoken from their brief slumber over the period of 2 and a half games and will regain their momentum from the win over the Sabres.
During the game, a Buffalo announcer stated that he had spoken with Crosby between periods and he had indicated that he could be back as soon as Tuesday when the Penguins host the Panthers. However, the Penguins official website noted on Sunday night that Crosby is still expected to be out through the end of the month. Nonetheless, the fact that he has started full contact practice with the team is very encouraging news. It was also stated that Gary Roberts could be back within a week, although, one has to wonder if he will spend any time at WBS getting back into game shape.
The Penguins are back on the ice Tuesday night as they take on the Florida Panthers at Mellon Arena.