Sidney Crosby still has Ryan Miller’s number after scoring a highlight-reel go-ahead goal in Pittsburgh’s 5-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.
That’s fine with Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, so long as that trend doesn’t continue once the Winter Games open next week.
"I was cheering the goal this time," said Bylsma, who will be switching hats in Sochi, where he will be coaching Miller on the U.S. team. "It did dawn on me as Sid was going in and he scores that goal."
Crosby, Canada’s captain, had a goal and assist in a pre-Olympic tuneup in which the Eastern Conference-leading Penguins (40-15-2) set a franchise record by reaching 40 wins in 57 games. That eclipsed the previous mark of 40 wins in 65 games in 1995-96.
Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Brian Gibbons and minor-league call-up Harry Zolnierczyk also scored in a game the Penguins overcame a 1-0 deficit.
Drew Stafford scored for the NHL’s worst team, and Miller finished with 29 saves. Buffalo (15-33-8) dropped to 4-9-4 in its past 17 and winless in its last eight home games (0-5-3). That’s the Sabres’ worst home stretch since opening the season 0-8-1.
For Crosby, he scored his first goal in six games and also ended a two-game point drought.
That it happened against Buffalo and Miller shouldn’t come as a surprise. Crosby has at least a point in all 14 trips to Buffalo (9 goals and 13 assists). And he has been particularly sharp at beating Miller, including the gold-medal winning overtime goal in Canada’s 3-2 victory at the Vancouver Games four years ago.
"He made some big saves tonight," Crosby said in defense of Miller. "Can’t blame him. He held his team in it. And we scored some nice goals."
The performance didn’t sit well with Miller, but he doesn’t think it will carry over to the Olympics.
"It’s game-by-game. Stuff happens out there and you reset," Miller said.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan had his goalie’s back.
"That had nothing to do with Ryan tonight," Nolan said. "It was the guys in front of him. Our team, we need everyone. We had a couple of guys no-show tonight."
That was evident on Crosby’s goal, which came on the power play 2:08 into the second period, and put the Penguins up 2-1.
Immediately after Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Buffalo’s Brian Flynn in close, Crosby circled his own net and built up a head of steam by driving up the left wing. Accepting Matt Niskanen’s pass while crossing center, Crosby didn’t break stride in cutting between Flynn and Mike Weber. He then drove toward the net and snapped a shot just inside the top right corner.
Neal joked that he’s seen Crosby score goals like that so many times that he didn’t even celebrate, but instead simply headed to the bench.
Miller had no chance some 17 minutes later, when Malkin scored on the breakaway.
Pouncing on Marcus Foligno’s turnover inside the Penguins’ blue line, Malkin streaked past flat-footed defender Jamie McBain. Driving in alone on Miller, he faked going right and went left to deposit the puck in the open side.
Miller is one of the three U.S. goalies selected to play at Sochi, and the game against the Penguins was regarded his last chance to make a firsthand impression on Bylsma.
Bylsma has yet to name his starter, and maintained that Miller’s performance on Wednesday would have no influence on his decision.
Miller was coming off his worst outing of the season. He was benched after giving up five goals on 27 shots through two periods in a 7-1 loss at Colorado on Saturday.
He allowed three goals on 28 shots through two periods before the floodgates opened in the third. Gibbons scored off a face off, and Neal on a transition break.
"The first period we weren’t very sharp," Crosby said. "Yeah, we took a little bit of time to get going, but once we did, I felt like we did grab a lot of momentum there."
NOTES: The Sabres played without D Tyler Myers, who hurt his right leg in a 3-2 loss to Edmonton on Monday. Coach Ted Nolan has not ruled out Myers from playing in their pre-Olympic break finale at Ottawa on Thursday. … Zolnierczyk stepped into the lineup a day after being recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He replaced Taylor Pyatt (lower body), who was hurt in a 2-1 overtime win over Ottawa on Monday. … The Penguins completed a three-game series sweep of the Sabres, and improved to 12-4 in their past 16 meetings.