With the last-place Buffalo Sabres coming to town and the Olympic break rapidly approaching, the Pittsburgh Penguins were primed for a second straight Monday letdown.
But instead of matching their lackluster performance in a home loss to Florida seven days ago, the Penguins delivered a businesslike effort in a 3-0 blanking of the Sabres. Marc-Andre Fleury denied 24 shots for his fourth shutout of the season, helping Pittsburgh improve to 22-4 at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins (37-14-2, 76 points) have struggled to get offense from their third and fourth forward lines, but the so-called “bottom six” accounted for five points Monday night, including Deryk Engelland‘s third goal of the season on the wing and Tanner Glass‘ empty-netter that sealed the win.
Glass also earned the primary assist on Engelland’s second-period strike that made it 2-0, part of a productive couple of games for the veteran grinder. He matched an NHL season high with 13 hits Saturday in Dallas, an energetic evening that led to a few shifts on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz against Buffalo.
Kunitz netted his 26th goal of the year 5:44 into the second, breaking a scoreless goalie duel between Fleury and Ryan Miller. Crosby, who had two assists on the night, set up Brian Gibbons in front for what appeared to be an easy goal after a Buffalo turnover. Gibbons hit the post, but Kunitz was on the spot to backhand the rebound past Miller.
Engelland doubled the Pittsburgh lead when Glass burrowed behind the Sabres’ goal line and centered to the part-time forward in the right circle. With Miller lunging across, Engelland buried his fourth of the year high into the twine.
The Penguins were outshooting the Sabres (14-30-7, 35 points) by a 25-16 margin through two periods, but the visitors put together their best stretch early in the third. Pittsburgh got loose in its own zone, handing golden opportunities to Ville Leino, Brian Flynn and Matt Moulson. Fleury stoned all three on the way to his 27th career clean sheet.
Buffalo stayed out of the penalty box, giving only one opportunity to the NHL’s best power play. However, the Sabres didn’t have nearly enough scoring punch Monday; they had netted at least three goals in six straight games entering the night.
Miller, who has a good shot to be Team USA’s starting goalie at next month’s Olympics, was quite sharp as usual, stopping 31 shots.
The Penguins head west for a short two-game trip, staring with a visit to Los Angeles on Thursday night. Faceoff with the Kings is set for 10 p.m. Eastern.
Notes: Kunitz’ wife gave birth to a girl Sunday, the couple’s third child…Evgeni Malkin was held off the score sheet in his 500th regular-season NHL game, but he did win 11 of 13 faceoffs, a rare dominant night in the circle for No. 71…Penguins coach Dan Bylsma managed ice time rather evenly, with defenseman Kris Letang leading all Pittsburgh skaters at 22:05. Crosby led the Pens’ forwards with 19:54…Pittsburgh’s top-ranked penalty kill extinguished all three Sabres’ power plays.