Penguins Notebook: Weak penalties keep it close

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Sabres' power play had been struggling, but the Penguins made things easy for them to get a tying goal in a 4-3 Penguins win Sunday at First Niagara Center.

The Penguins were hanging onto a 2-1 lead forged by two goals they scored in the first 87 seconds of the game when their captain and leading scorer, Sidney Crosby, took a penalty at 7:39 in the second period. Tanner Glass immediately followed Crosby to the penalty box for a faceoff violation.

Sabres winger Thomas Vanek scored his league-leading 12th goal on the resulting five-on-three power play.

Crosby wasn't thrilled about taking just his fourth minor penalty of the season, a slashing call for a move from behind against Buffalo center Jason Pominville along the right-wing boards.

"I thought the puck was a lot closer to Pominville when I did that," Crosby said. "My arms were extended. Anytime you extend yourself like that, you put yourself in position to get a cross-checking call.

"It was a pretty intense game, though. I think that we've been more disciplined, better lately. But I think I would like to have that one back."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma stuck up for Crosby.

"He's tracking back," Bylsma said. "His job is to get to the guy. He makes some contact with him right before he dumps it in. There are a lot of those plays in the game. That one was called."

Bylsma was equally unalarmed when, at 7:06 of the third period and the score tied, 3-3, Buffalo's Steve Ott drew a slashing penalty by Chris Kunitz.

"It was a play on Chris that was pretty darned close to being a questionable [call]," Bylsma said.

The Sabres' power play did not covert on that chance -- it finished 0 for 3 in five-on-four advantages -- leaving the door open for Paul Martin to score the winning goal for the Penguins.

"That's huge." Ott said of the power play not capitalizing on Kunitz's penalty. "That puts the game away right there. It's disappointing when we're walking away from it empty-handed."

Hockey celebration

The game was part of Hockey Day in America, which was part of the sixth Hockey Weekend Across America.

That had a double meaning for Bylsma, who grew up in Grand Haven, Mich. -- and who is considered a candidate to coach in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

On a personal level, it brought back memories.

"The picture that comes to me is the rink in the back yard with sticks sticking out of the snowbank, playing in the backyard winter after winter," Bylsma said. "That's my picture."

On a larger level, the day of celebration with connections to the NHL and USA Hockey reminds Bylsma of how much the sport has grown in this country.

Penguins winger Beau Bennett, who played in his first two NHL games over the weekend, grew up in California.

Four players who spent time with the Pittsburgh Hornets -- J.T. Miller, John Gibson, Brandon Saad and Vince Trocheck -- were selected within the first 64 picks in the 2011 NHL draft. Gibson, Miller, Trocheck and Riley Barber, who grew up in Washington, Pa., helped the United States win the gold medal at the 2013 world junior championships a month ago.

"I think hockey in the last 25 years, for me there's a lot of difference. There's hockey all over the United States," Bylsma said.

"When I grew up it was Detroit, Minnesota and the east."

Afternoon delight

Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff can't say he's used to afternoon games, but he doesn't mind them.

"I think you just get used to them," he said. "Some players like them. We've never had a lot of them -- never had a lot of them here.

"I look at it that if you play a game early, you enjoy the rest of the day. You come to the rink ready to play right off the bat. You don't have that extra trip [to the arena for a morning skate]. It's a quicker day."

Tip-ins

According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Sabres and Penguins became the first teams to combine for three goals on the first four shots of the game since Buffalo and Atlanta March 16, 2010. ... The Penguins dressed defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and scratched Simon Despres. Bylsma said that was to add a more physical element to the lineup. The other Penguins scratches were forwards Dustin Jeffrey and Zach Boychuk.

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