Their MVP hasn’t played in more than nine months, their former
scoring champ and Conn Smythe winner is still feeling the effects
of last season’s knee injury, and yet the Pittsburgh Penguins have
jumped out to their best start in 17 years.
They’ll be shorthanded again as they try to keep it going.
Sidney Crosby is still out and Evgeni Malkin won’t play either
Saturday night at Consol Energy Center as Pittsburgh tries to
extend its winning streak against the Buffalo Sabres to seven.
While the Penguins (3-0-2) received some good news Thursday when
Crosby was cleared for full contact, it’s uncertain when the 2007
Hart Trophy winner will be ready for game action as he continues
his comeback from concussion-like symptoms that have sidelined him
since Jan. 5.
Malkin, though, came back Thursday after missing two games with
lingering soreness in his surgically repaired right knee and
recorded two assists in a 3-2 overtime loss against Washington.
“Geno came back and he was flying tonight,” left wing James
Neal said after scoring twice.
While he looked good against the Capitals, Malkin’s knee is
still bothering him. He did not participate in Saturday’s morning
skate, and won’t play against the Sabres.
With Crosby out and Malkin hurting, Neal has done a great job
picking up the scoring load, tallying a league-best four goals to
help the club get off to its best start since opening 7-0-0 during
the lockout-shortened 1995 season.
“Coming in and getting accustomed to everything and becoming
good buddies with everybody is an adjustment and takes time,” Neal
told the Penguins’ official website. “I’m fortunate enough it’s
been easy here to come in. The guys are very welcoming and that
helps a lot.”
Neal, though, had just one goal and five assists in 20 games
last season following a Feb. 21 trade from Dallas. That score, plus
an assist, came in a 3-1 home win over Buffalo on March 8 when the
Penguins completed the four-game season sweep.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who started each of those and has is 5-0-0
with a 1.80 goals-against average in his last five starts against
Buffalo, should be in net Saturday after sitting out Thursday due
to flu-like symptoms.
The Penguins need a healthy Fleury as they open a stretch of
five games in eight days.
“The Sabres have been a good team. It should be a good
challenge,” he said.
Buffalo (2-1-0) hopes it’s up for the challenge as it kicks off
a four-game trip following Friday’s 4-3 loss to Carolina. Playing
for the first time since winning both its games in Europe, the
Sabres gave up a power-play goal to Jeff Skinner with 1:24 left –
just 57 seconds after Drew Stafford’s second score of the season
Buffalo went 0 for 7 on the power play and surrendered a pair of
“It’s a tough one to handle,” Stafford said following the
Sabres’ first game in six days. “We need to clean up our power play
a little bit, take a little more responsibility and pride in not
letting teams get those short-handed chances.”
The Sabres have been solid by killing 11 of 13 penalties, but
they can’t afford to be a man down against the Penguins, whose six
power-play goals tie Ottawa for the league lead.
Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who allowed a season-worst four
goals Friday, lost three games to the Penguins in 2010-11 and is
1-6-0 with a 3.70 GAA in his last seven starts in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins have won four straight and seven of eight at home