The two-headed monster attacked, and the Sabres couldn’t defend it.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both scored absolutely filthy goals and added assists to lead the Penguins past the Sabres 5-1 on Wednesday at First Niagara Center, their last road game heading into the Olympic break. Harry Zolniercyzk, Brian Gibbons and James Neal also scored for Pittsburgh.
There’s really no other way to describe the plays Crosby and Malkin made, other than two of the best players in the world being just that. Both times, they made the Buffalo defensemen look like pylons as they split or powered around them before bearing down alone on poor Ryan Miller, who didn’t have much of a chance on either goal.
“He made some big saves tonight,” Crosby said. “Even the last game we played against them, he made some good saves too. So can't blame him. He held his team in it and we scored some nice goals tonight.”
Remember when Crosby was scoreless in back-to-back games entering tonight for just the second time this season? Yeah, we don’t either. Not now, anyway.
“It's nice to score,” Crosby said. “You try to go out there and do the same thing every night. Work hard and hope you get rewarded. So it's nice when they go in and obviously to get a win here with one more left before the break.”
With the Penguins on a power play in the second period, Crosby received a pass from Matt Niskanen while coming up the ice with speed and split the Sabres defensemen Mike Weber and Brian Flynn. Team Canada captain Crosby then walked in on Team USA goaltender Miller – whom he scored the Golden Goal on four years ago – and beat him with a wicked shot top shelf, glove side.
“I was able to come back and get some speed,” Crosby explained. “’Nisky’ made a nice hard pass and gave me a lot of time to get through there. It's not always pretty sometimes on those breakouts, but that one worked out well.”
Not to be outdone, Malkin used his deceptive strength to power around Jamie McBain. And even with Mike Weber bearing down on him, Malkin created enough time for himself to deke around Miller and tuck the puck into the cage.
“Joe Micheletti asked me in my bench interview if my mind was at all thinking about maybe the next week,” said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma with a wry smile, who will be behind the bench for Team USA at the Olympics. “I couldn't help but think about that as Crosby put it down on that breakaway against Miller.”
Down at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was spectacular when he needed to be. The Sabres controlled the first period, testing him early and often.
And while it was a different story the remaining 40 minutes – with the Pens having the majority of puck possession – there were a few breakdowns by Pittsburgh, but Fleury was there to come up with the big saves – including one on a Sabres 3-on-1 opportunity.
“They came out with the first goal and we responded really well. 'Flower' was unbelievable again tonight making big saves at the right times,” Neal said.
Overall, this was a tremendous display of skill by the talented, gifted Penguins with highlight-reel goals from their star players in Crosby, Malkin and Neal. But what the Pens took away from this game is that they had those opportunities because they worked for them and created them as a team.
“I thought Buffalo came out hard in the first with a hard forecheck. Gave us some problems with it,” Bylsma said. “We turned over a couple pucks, let in the first goal. But I liked how we responded after that. We get a big goal on the forecheck by Zolniercyzk, Crosby on the forecheck turning it over to tie us up there in the first.
“Then I thought our second and third, that was more how we need to play and did play and played real well. So we got our opportunities, we got several. A couple breakaways. But we got them from good defense, being good positionally. That turned into the Malkin goal for the breakaway. Turned into the Neal goal in the third on the goal as well.”
In addition to big games from their top-end guys, the Pens also got secondary scoring from Zolnierczyk and Gibbons – two players who have spent a lot of time in the American Hockey League with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Gibbons scored for a second straight game after netting a big power-play marker on Monday in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 win over Buffalo. The Pens lined up for an offensive-zone faceoff, and Sutter cleanly won the draw back to Gibbons coming off the wall. Gibbons took a couple of strides before lining up the puck and firing it past Miller.
“He invented a new face-off play for himself,” said Bylsma, adding – “I think he even celebrated on that goal.”
Gibbons has developed a bit of a reputation for his serious demeanor, which began with his non-existent celebration on his first-ever NHL goal earlier this season. So it was endearing to watch teammate Paul Martin playfully lift Gibbons’ arm in celebration after tonight’s goal.
“I think I've been getting a hard time from the guys on not celebrating on the goals,” Gibbons smiled. “So (Martin) came over and threw my arm up.”
Zolniercyzk, recalled yesterday from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and penciled in on left wing of the fourth line next to Craig Adams and Deryk Engelland for tonight’s game, had a rough start. After taking a hard hit from Sabres captain Steve Ott early in the first period, Zolniercyzk went to the locker room to get checked out.
Fortunately, he was able to return – and ended up scoring a big goal shortly after he returned. After receiving a pass from Adams, Zolnierczyk came off the wall, cut to the front of the net, waited patiently for Miller to commit, put it on his forehand and lifted it short side.
“I thought it was a big goal by Harry Z,” Bylsma said. “Our first goal on a forecheck, physical up ice and someone mentioned it, it looked like he knew what he was doing there at the cage. A nice play from Adams, but goes backhand to forehand and puts it home for us.”
Author: Sam Kasan