While the Pittsburgh Penguins will send seven players to Russia for the Winter Olympics, only two will be expected to carry a large offensive load for their respective countries: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Those two displayed their prodigious talents Wednesday night in Buffalo, as each scored a spectacular goal in the Penguins’ 5-1 win over the Sabres at First Niagara Center.
Crosby and Malkin also added an assist apiece to lead the Penguins (40-15-2, 82 points) to their second straight win and fourth in five games. Harry Zolnierczyk, Brian Gibbons and James Neal each earned a goal as Pittsburgh poured on five unanswered to get their 12th victory when allowing the first tally.
Marc-Andre Fleury permitted only Drew Stafford‘s rebound goal six minutes into the game; he shut out the Sabres nine days ago in Pittsburgh. His Buffalo counterpart Ryan Miller was definitely busier, making 29 saves to Fleury’s 24 as the Penguins controlled play for most of the night.
After Crosby and Craig Adams facilitated Zolnierczyk’s second Penguins goal at 15:01 of the first, the visitors broke a 1-1 tie with a pair of second-period beauties from Nos. 87 and 71. Crosby struck first, taking a pass from Matt Niskanen during a power play, splitting two Sabres and rifling a wrister over Miller’s glove at 2:08 for his team-leading 28th goal.
Following several minutes of back-and-forth action, it was Malkin’s turn to please the Penguins partisans who made the trip to western New York. With 2:12 left on the clock, the three-time Russian Olympian bulled through Buffalo’s Jamie McBain at the blue line and turned Miller inside-out with a forehand deke.
Early in the third, Brandon Sutter‘s clean faceoff win led to Gibbons’ third NHL goal, then Neal buried his 19th from the high slot with eight minutes to go after a drop pass from Malkin.
Not only did Neal’s snipe give the Penguins at least five goals for the 13th time this season, it also tied a neat bow atop Pittsburgh’s 40th win in its 57th contest. It’s the fastest any team in franchise history has reached that milestone.
The Penguins wrap the pre-Olympic portion of their schedule Friday night when the Rangers come to Pittsburgh for a 7 p.m. faceoff.
Notes: Pens defenseman Kris Letang missed his fourth straight game with an illness. Winger Taylor Pyatt also sat out due to a lower-body injury, while Chuck Kobasew was a healthy scratch…Ville Leino, Zenon Konopka and Tyler Myers didn’t dress for Buffalo…The teams tied in faceoff wins with 26 each.