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No Sid, no problem for Penguins

by Brian Hunter /

Making his first start in close to a month, Dany Sabourin stopped 31 shots en route to his second career shutout and a 2-0 win over Montreal.
The Pittsburgh Penguins managed a feat Saturday night they had never pulled off since Sidney Crosby joined them at the start of the 2005-06 season: They won without their superstar center in the lineup. The keys: playing disciplined hockey and getting flawless work from a goaltender making his first start in nearly a month.

Dany Sabourin stopped 31 shots for his second career shutout and the Penguins beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 at Bell Centre to take sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division. The win came one night after Crosby sustained a high ankle sprain against the Tampa Bay Lightning that has sidelined the 20-year-old star indefinitely.

“This is how it’s going to have to be — a gutsy effort from everyone,” forward Georges Laraque said after setting up Jeff Taffe’s early goal ( 700K) that held up as the game-winner. “We have a lot to prove. We want to show everyone that even though the best player in the world is not in our lineup, we can hang on until he gets back.

“We can’t replace him, but we can play a little bit harder to try to stay where we are, in great shape, until he comes back.”

Evgeni Malkin, the team’s undisputed go-to player in Crosby’s absence, added an empty-netter with 12.4 seconds left ( 700K). The Penguins were 0-2-2 in the past when Crosby didn’t dress.

“We showed that when you don’t have the firepower, you have to play smart defensively and score when you get the chances,” said Jarkko Ruutu, who picked up an assist on Taffe’s goal.

Sabourin, who hadn’t started since Dec. 21, did the rest. He robbed Alex Kovalev on a golden scoring chance from close range in the first period ( 700K) and made several big saves down the stretch. He stoned Saku Koivu on a give-and-go midway through the third and stopped a Kovalev wrist shot with 1:24 remaining ( 700K).

Sabourin split time early in the season with Marc-Andre Fleury and initially became the Penguins starter after Fleury went down in early December with a high ankle sprain of his own. But after a loss to the Islanders on Dec. 21, Ty Conklin started two days later and went 9-0-1 in Pittsburgh’s next 10 games prior to his first regulation loss against the Lightning on Friday — relegating Sabourin to the bench.

“In practice I did what I had to do to stay sharp,” Sabourin said. “It’s not an easy job, but there is stuff you can do to be more prepared when you get a chance.”

“He’s been working really hard and it’s been a week and a half that he’s been asking me when he was going to get back in, so he wanted to play bad,” Penguins goaltending coach Gilles Meloche said. “He had to come up with a big game, and he did.”

Already dealing with the loss of Crosby, the Penguins saw another forward go down on the game’s opening shift.

Colby Armstrong was chasing a loose puck into the right corner in the attacking zone when he was bumped by Canadiens defenseman Roman Hamrlik. Armstong went awkwardly into the boards, legs first, and stayed down for several minutes. He was eventually able to skate off on his own power, but didn’t return with what the team called a hip contusion.

Before the game, center Maxime Talbot said the onus was on all the Penguins to pick up their play.

Without Sidney Crosby in the lineup, Evgeni Malkin picked up his play and added an empty-net insurance goal to end the game.

“Everybody’s going to have to play their role, but maybe do a little bit more,” Talbot said.

Laraque did his part early. After the Penguins killed an early penalty to him, the bruising forward helped give them a 1-0 lead at 6:14 of the first period. Positioned behind the Montreal goal, Laraque sent a nifty backhand pass through the slot and Taffe buried the puck past Cristobal Huet for his second of the season.

“It’s one of those things where (Laraque’s) got such a big body and he doesn’t get enough credit around this League for making plays and things like that,” Taffe said. “It was just a great play by Georges.”

Malkin, carrying the biggest burden with Crosby out, put his playmaking ability on full display in the middle 20 minutes. He stickhandled around several Montreal defenders on an end-to-end rush before passing across to Sergei Gonchar, who was denied by Huet ( 700K).  A few minutes later, Malkin’s breakout pass sent Petr Sykora in alone, but Huet stopped Sykora’s breakaway and second chance off the rebound.

Malkin, who had numerous strong chances to score with Huet in the net, finally got his 24th of the season when he took Sykora’s feed in the closing seconds and hit the empty net from the right circle.

Montreal, which returned from a 3-1 road trip, fell to 8-8-5 at home.

“We definitely didn’t have 20 guys who were ready to play,” Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. “You could see that our passing and our strength on the puck wasn't there, our skating was a little off — the whole thing around our game was a little off, which wasn't the case on the road.”

Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.

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