PITTSBURGH -- Following a perfect month, the Pittsburgh Penguins were anything but during their first game of April.
Playing without their captain and the NHL leading scorer Sidney Crosby for the first time this season, the Penguins were listless in having a 15-game winning streak snapped, 4-1 by the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday at Consol Energy Center.
"The effort was not where we wanted to be, not where we can have it," Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "We have been playing some great hockey, and tonight didn't seem like our best effort."
Kevin Porter had his first two goals of the season and Steve Ott and Cody Hodgson also scored for Buffalo, which won for the first time in five games. Amid speculation he could be traded before Wednesday afternoon's deadline, Sabres captain Jason Pominville had two assists and was a plus-3.
Ryan Miller made 19 saves during his 492nd game for the Sabres, breaking the franchise record for appearances by a goalie.
"I think tonight you can say we played a full game," said Miller, who had won just five of 19 previous decisions against the Penguins. "It was very nice to see and I'm extremely proud of the guys and hopefully this is something we can carry forward, keep in our pocket and know that we can play a solid game."
After the game, Miller fended off questions about the swirling trade rumors. The Sabres traded veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr for draft picks the previous night and general manager Darcy Regier has made no secret that several other players are available for trade. That includes Pominville, who upon request by Regier submitted a list of teams he'd accept a trade to on Monday.
Buffalo was also without leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who tested an upper-body muscle strain at the morning skate, but missed his fourth straight game.
"In order to break the streak against a team like this, you have to play really well," Buffalo interim coach Ron Rolston said. "And we hadn't done that to date in terms of a 60-minute game. I think I'll enjoy that the most."
The Penguins, who also had a team-record 12-game home winning streak snapped, fell two games short of breaking their own League record of 17 straight wins set 20 years ago. They'll have to settle with sharing the NHL's second-longest streak with the 1981-82 New York Islanders. All 15 of their wins came during March, the first undefeated and untied full month in NHL history.
Jarome Iginla scored for the first time as a Penguins player in his second game for Pittsburgh, which was denied its second 5-0-0 homestand in franchise history.
"It's a disappointing feeling now," Iginla said. "I know the guys have worked so hard at this streak, and it was fun to come and get a taste of that. It was really impressive what they accomplished and it's tough to see that end.
"We weren't as good as this team's capable of being, and we all know that."
Crosby sustained a broken jaw when he was struck by a puck during his first shift of Pittsburgh's previous game Saturday. The Penguins were also again without top defensemen Kris Letang (lower-body injury) and Paul Martin (broken bone in the upper body).
Still, the Penguins entered the game with a franchise-record opponent scoreless streak of 208:24, having shut out their three previous opponents. Tomas Vokoun, who was in the net for the final seven periods of that streak, extended it to 218:48 before Buffalo blew the game open with four goals in a span of 13:52 -- that's as many as Pittsburgh allowed in its previous 522:56.
Porter, who hadn't scored in more than a year, picked up his first in a span of 20 NHL games when he took advantage of a broken stick and a poor pass by Pittsburgh. While playing the point on the power play, Iginla's stick snapped into two pieces, allowing Pominville to lead a rush the other way. Iginla stole the puck via a kick, however, and got it to teammate Matt Niskanen.
Niskanen tried to blindly drop it back for Iginla, but Porter picked it off and quickly got off a shot that beat Vokoun.
"Things weren't going well from the start," Niskanen said, "and we didn't have a whole lot of a pushback or a whole lot of urgency offensively to execute with the puck to get our game going."
Iginla tied it at 13:27 of the first with his 10th of the season, a tap-in into an empty net off a feed from Chris Kunitz while on the power play.
But Ott gave the Sabres the lead for good with 1:50 left in the first when Pominville teed it up for him to one-time from the top of the left circle.
Buffalo made it 4-1 with a pair of goals 67 seconds apart among the first 3:28 of the second period. Hodgson's 13th of the season but first since March 17 was a wraparound that came off an assist from Pominville. The team's second-leading scorer, Hodgson had been demoted to the fourth line due to lack of sound defensive play during the Sabres' previous game, a 2-0 home loss to Boston on Sunday.
Porter made it a three-goal cushion when he threw the puck to the net and it deflected off the skate of Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland and past Vokoun, ending the veteran goaltender's night. Fleury entered for his first action since leaving after two periods of a March 26 game against the Montreal Canadiens due to an upper-body injury and stopped all 16 shots he faced.
"We just didn't execute well, we didn't look quick," Penguins checking forward Craig Adams said. "We didn't get in on the forecheck and play in their end nearly as much as we needed to, and we didn't create enough. And then, obviously, we gave them a few goals."
Despite the expected sell-off at the deadline, the Sabres remained on the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoff race; they are five points behind the eighth-place New York Islanders.
Brooks Orpik appeared in his 622nd game, breaking the record for most by a defenseman for the Penguins, who still lead the East by five points and the Atlantic Division by 17. They lost for the first time since Feb. 28.
"It does happen where you have an off night," Niskanen said, "but we had a few of those during the streak in which we had a period or a stretch of 10 minutes where we found a way to play well enough to get things turned back around and find a way to win those games. Tonight, we just didn't have much of an answer."
|SHG - Kevin Porter (1) ASST: NONE|
1 - 0 BUF
|PPG - Jarome Iginla (10) ASST: Chris Kunitz (25), Evgeni Malkin (21)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Steve Ott (6) ASST: Jason Pominville (14), Adam Pardy (2)|
2 - 1 BUF
|Cody Hodgson (13) ASST: Jason Pominville (15), Mark Pysyk (1)|
3 - 1 BUF
|Kevin Porter (2) ASST: Brian Flynn (3), Andrej Sekera (9)|
4 - 1 BUF
|Drew Stafford Slashing against Tanner Glass|
|Mike Weber Boarding against Brenden Morrow|
|Mike Weber Unsportsmanlike conduct|
|Deryk Engelland Roughing against Patrick Kaleta|
|Simon Despres Boarding against Marcus Foligno|
|Brenden Morrow Cross checking against Christian Ehrhoff|
|James Neal Interference against Patrick Kaleta|
|Chris Kunitz Tripping against Tyler Myers|
|Cody Hodgson Hooking against James Neal|