usually has a markedly quiet and reserved demeanor.
But during Tuesday’s game against Buffalo at CONSOL Energy Center, he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face, as he and James Neal
each scored their first goals as Penguins to power Pittsburgh past the Sabres, 3-1.
The Penguins are now 3-0-2 in their last five games.
“Both those guys were pretty relieved and had pretty big smiles on their faces to get their first,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.
Michalek’s goal broke a 91-game goalless drought, his last tally coming with Phoenix on Jan. 14, 2010, against New Jersey.
“It feels really good,” Michalek said with a smile. “It’s a huge relief. It’s been a long time since I scored a goal and I’ve been thinking about it every day, almost. I’m not the guy to score many goals, but once in a while to chip in one, it feels really good.”
On the play, Neal carried the puck into the zone and around the net before finding Michalek with a pretty feed. Michalek teed up his shot and absolutely blistered it into the top corner of the net through traffic past Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.
"It’s one of those things where I just tried to put the puck on net, and there was so much traffic that the goalie had no idea where the puck was," Michalek said. "I’m trying to keep it simple, get the pucks on net and it worked today."
Getting on the scoreboard was a fitting reward for Michalek, who has been one of the Penguins’ rocks on defense and on their top-ranked penalty kill for the majority of the season.
After being sidelined for nine games with an injury early in the season, Michalek hasn’t missed a game since returning to the lineup on Oct. 30.
Both those guys were pretty relieved and had pretty big smiles on their faces to get their first. - Head coach Dan Bylsma, on Neal and Michalek's first goals as Penguins
He’s been a key cog to the Penguins’ defense that has kept the team within two points of Philadelphia for the top spot in Eastern Conference despite playing a combined 50 games without Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
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And with the recent injuries ravaging the Penguins defensive corps, Michalek’s importance to this Pittsburgh squad has been even more apparent.
“(Michalek)’s (goal) probably brought more smiles,” Bylsma said. “(Michalek) has been a big part of our team and has been playing great defensively for us and on the PK. It was good to see him get a shot that finds a way through to the net.”
After the Sabres jumped to an early 1-0 lead in the first period, Neal evened the score at 1-1 just 1:25 into the second period.
After defenseman Deryk Engelland
took a pass on a set faceoff play and skated the puck into the Sabres zone, he backhanded a perfect feed to Neal, who was posted up just outside the blue paint.
Neal wasted no time in re-directing the puck past Miller for his 22nd goal of the season and his first in a black and gold sweater.
“We work on faceoff plays all the time. I was just trying to get to the net,” Neal said. “And (Engelland) made a quick backhand pass there. I got lucky and got a good bounce. It was great to get that goal and that monkey off your back.”
It’s been a bit of an adjustment period for Neal since being acquired from Dallas, as he was held scoreless in his first six games in a Penguins uniform. But he’s looking increasingly comfortable in his new surroundings, and that translated to the ice Tuesday.
“Every game I’ve just been feeling more and more comfortable,” Neal said. “It’s a great building to play in, with great fans, and it’s fun to play here. “
“Some different guys getting on the scoresheet, and a nice win for the group,” Bylsma said.