The Penguins have spent much of this season hoping to get secondary scoring from their wingers.
Tuesday night, in a 3-2 victory against Buffalo at Mellon Arena, they did.
Too bad it came just as general manager Ray Shero was finalizing the details of a trade to add some more, in the form of Toronto winger Alexei Ponikarovsky.
Blue-collar winger Pascal Dupuis got his 14th and Ruslan Fedotenko scored his first in the past 18 games as the Penguins (37-22-4) moved into first place in the Atlantic Division, pending the outcome of New Jersey's game at San Jose Tuesday night. The Devils trailed the Penguins by one point before facing the Sharks.
"We want to be on top," Dupuis said. "We're going to do everything we can in the last 20 games to be there."
They hope that includes getting steady production from Ponikarovsky, who has 19 goals and 22 assists in 61 games and projects as a linemate for Evgeni Malkin.
He didn't come cheap, however, as the Penguins had to give up winger Luca Caputi, one of the top prospects in their organization, in the deal. The Maple Leafs also got defenseman Martin Skoula, albeit only to clear the cap space necessary to accommodate a prorated share of Ponikarovsky's $2,105,000 salary.
Ponikarovsky should be in the Penguins' lineup for their game against the New York Rangers at 7:08 p.m. Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
Early indications are that his new teammates believe he can make a significant contribution.
"He's a really big body who's got a good shot," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "He's good around the net. The best thing you can say about someone is that he's hard to play against.
"That's the attribute that, as a player, you want to be known for. All the times I've played against him, that's definitely how I would describe him."
Defenseman Jordan Leopold, acquired from Florida Monday, made his Penguins debut against the Sabres, and logged 18 minutes, 12 seconds of ice time. He got significant work on the penalty-killing unit, but only a little on the power play.
"I liked the way [Leopold] played," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He fit right in. He looked comfortable and solid."
From Leopold's perspective, it was good simply to have his Penguins debut behind him.
"It was good to get that one under my belt," he said. "There was a lot of stress, a lot of emotions, in the past 24-plus hours."
Sergei Gonchar gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead during a power play at 14:58 of the opening period when he beat Sabres goalie Patrick Lalime through traffic with a slap shot from the high slot for his ninth of the season and 200th in the NHL. Assists went to Alex Goligoski and Sidney Crosby.
Penguins goalie Brent Johnson preserved the Penguins' advantage by denying Buffalo's Thomas Vanek from the slot during the final 10 seconds before the intermission.
Dupuis made it 2-0 at 3:13 of the second, when he converted a Fedotenko feed for his 14th, but Toni Lydman got that back for the Sabres by beating Johnson through traffic from above the left circle at 6:44.
Fedotenko, whose disappointing offensive output this season is one of the reasons the Penguins have been looking for a top-six winger, got what proved to be the winner at 11:03 of the third as he beat Lalime from near the top of the left circle after the Penguins controlled a faceoff.
"We've been working on faceoff plays," Fedotenko said, "and that's one of them."
Although Derek Roy countered for the Sabres when he beat Johnson through traffic at 14:21, the Sabres couldn't generate the goal that would have forced overtime, and the Penguins were rewarded for a strong and sound effort in their first game in more than two weeks.
"It felt more like our structure from last year," left winger Matt Cooke said.
"It was more the game we want to play, more the intensity level, the energy level."
Which was pretty much Bylsma's assessment.
"There was a lot of facets of our game that I thought were much more like our team game than we've seen consistently [during this season]," he said.
"It wasn't perfect. We played a good team ... but I was really pleased in a lot of areas. It's definitely something to build on."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published March 3, 2010 5:00 AM