Penguins fall to Buffalo, 4-3


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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Penguins have seen the flip side of this story this season. A lot.

And they like it better that way. A lot.

But after proving so adept at wiping out other team's third-period leads -- the Penguins won seven of their first 21 games that way -- they were unable to protect one of their own last night, allowing Buffalo to score two unanswered goals during the final 20 minutes for a 4-3 victory at HSBC Arena.

Defenseman Alex Goligoski suggested karma might have been a factor. Center Sidney Crosby had a more tangible explanation.

"We were in position there in the third, and made a couple of mistakes that cost us," he said.

The Sabres' comeback spoiled the NHL debut of Penguins goalie John Curry, who stopped 28 of 32 shots.

"You can't blame him on any of the goals," Crosby said. "He held us in there. He did a great job for us."

The Penguins (13-6-3) were again betrayed by their power play, which failed to score on seven chances with the extra man -- including a two-man advantage that lasted 74 seconds. They are 1 for 22 with the extra man during their past five games.

"We have to keep practicing," Crosby said. "It's not easy for us right now, but we know what we have to do in order to be successful. It's a matter of doing it consistently.

"There are some power plays where we do it, some where we don't. The one where we don't do it, it's obvious and it ends up costing us. You can't waste them."

The Penguins' "battle level," he said, remains the core issue.

"On a power play, obviously, you outnumber the other team," Crosby said. "But that's useless if you don't compete and win battles and gain control. We have the skill, once we gain control, to make things happen."

The Penguins' played most of the evening without defenseman Philippe Boucher, who logged only about 4 1/2 minutes of ice time before sustaining an injury, the nature of which the Penguins declined to disclose.

Boucher's status for the Penguins' game against New Jersey tonight at 7:38 is not known, although a team official seemed pessimistic about his chances of playing.

Janne Pesonen, recalled from the Penguins' farm team in Wilkes-Barre after Max Talbot was injured on Long Island, played mostly on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora.

Talbot had been considered a long shot to dress last night after taking a shot off his left foot Wednesday, but decided he was able to play after participating in the morning skate.

With Talbot back in the mix, Ruslan Fedotenko was scratched to open a spot for Pesonen.

Tyler Kennedy gave the Penguins a short-lived lead midway through the first period, when he took a cross-crease feed from Matt Cooke and buried the puck behind Sabres goalie Ryan Miller at 10:29.

The goal was Kennedy's sixth of the season, none of which have been scored at Mellon Arena.

Drew Stafford pulled the Sabres even 56 seconds later, as he got free at the front lip of the crease and beat Curry after getting a pass from Maxim Afinogenov.

For the second game in a row, Therrien united Malkin and Crosby on a line in the middle of the second period, and a few minutes later, their partnership produced the Penguins' second goal.

Before that, however, Paul Gaustad put the Sabres in front with his first of the season, beating Curry from the left side of the slot at 12:21, 10 seconds before an interference minor to Brooks Orpik was to expire.

Thirty-four seconds later, however, Malkin and Crosby conspired to pull the Penguins even again.

Miller stopped a Malkin shot from the right side, but Crosby was able to swat the rebound out of the air and into the net for his ninth goal of the season and third in the past four games.

Malkin and Crosby teamed up to put the Penguins in front during the final minute of the period.

Malkin -- who Sabres coach Lindy Ruff described as "the modern-day [Jaromir] Jagr" -- knocked the puck away from Buffalo defenseman Jaroslav Spacek as he carried it through the neutral zone, and Crosby swooped in to grab it, then broke down the left side before beating Miller at 19:06.

But the Sabres rallied when Stafford tied the game by steering a Thomas Vanek feed past Curry at 3:11 and Gaustad picked up the winner at 16:36 by jamming a loose puck between Curry's pads.

"It's disappointing," Curry said. "It being my first start, I wanted to get a win."

NOTES -- Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury skated yesterday for the first time since suffering an apparent leg/groin injury two weeks ago and "felt pretty good," according to coach Michel Therrien, who acknowledged that "the injury is a [taking] little bit longer than we expected in the beginning" and that Fleury's status could be described as "week-to-week."

SCOUTING REPORT

Matchup: Devils vs. Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.

TV, radio: Versus, WXDX-FM (105.9).

Probable goaltenders: Dany Sabourin for Penguins. Scott Clemmensen for Devils.

Penguins: Lost to New Jersey, 2-1, in overtime at Mellon Arena Oct. 11. ... C Evgeni Malkin has nine goals, 12 assists in 17 career games against Devils. ... Will be playing on consecutive days for just second time this season.

Devils: Have won five games in row after losing previous four. ... RW Brian Gionta has goal in five consecutive games. ... Road penalty-killing ranks fourth in league, with success rate of 87.2 percent.

Hidden stat: Devils have outshot opponents in 10 of their 12 victories.

PG Blog: The PG's Seth Rorabaugh will liveblog tonight's game against the Devils at Empty Netters




Dave Molinari can be reached at dmolinari@post-gazette.com


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