Buffalo captures rare victory here

SABRES 3, PENGUINS 2


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The Penguins own one of the best power plays in the NHL this season.

Their penalty-killing is some of hockey's finest, too.

That means it is not a reach to suggest that good special-teams play is a major part of the reason the Penguins are 3-1-2.

Just as it would not be a reach to suggest that, in the wake of a 3-2 loss against Buffalo at Consol Energy Center Saturday night, some pretty shaggy five-on-five work also is a big part of the reason they are 3-1-2.

The difference? An effective power play and excellent shorthanded work have made it possible for the Penguins to squeeze eight points out of their first six games, while their performance at full-strength is the primary reason they have only eight points after those six. For while they have scored on six of 27 power plays and actually have scored more goals (2) than they have allowed (1) while shorthanded, the Penguins are being outscored, 14-8, five-on-five.

"Our power play has obviously been a big part of why we're winning, why we won those few games," center Jordan Staal said. "Obviously, our five-on-five play has to be better."

The Penguins faced Buffalo without center Evgeni Malkin for the third time in four games. He has been bothered by soreness in his surgically repaired right knee and Sidney Crosby, of course, sat out again because of a concussion.

The loss was the Penguins' first in regulation this season, while Buffalo's victory was just the second in its past nine trips here. That includes a four-game losing streak that ended Saturday night.

"Obviously, we wanted to win this game bad," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "You get an opportunity to play a team without a couple of its star players, you got to start taking advantage of it."

Nathan Gerbe put Buffalo in front to stay at 9:24 of the opening period, backhanding a rebound that a sliding Kris Letang could not keep out of the net, and the Sabres capitalized on a Letang turnover to make it 2-0 just under five minutes later.

Jason Pominville picked off a Letang clearing attempt in the Penguins' end and fed the puck to Thomas Vanek, who effectively had a 2-on-0 with Luke Adam.

Vanek threw a cross-ice pass to Adam, who tapped the puck behind goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 14:05.

The Sabres are aggressive, skilled and opportunistic and have a habit of making giveaways show up on the scoreboard a few seconds later.

"You can't be turning the puck over," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

The Penguins knew that going in. Just as they were aware of pretty much everything they saw from the Sabres.

"It's a disappointing outcome because we were so prepared for the way the game was going to be [played out]," winger James Neal said.

Neal got the Penguins back into the game at 2:11 of the second, when his shot from the outer hashmark on the left circle eluded Jhonas Enroth. Sabres defensemen Robyn Regehr appeared to deflect the puck as it got close to Enroth.

The goal was Neal's fifth in six games after getting just two in 27 after being acquired from Dallas as the trade deadline approached last winter.

The Sabres had several quality chances to restore their two-goal advantage when Pascal Dupuis of the Penguins was assessed a tripping penalty at 16:09, but Paul Martin tied up Pominville at the left side of the crease to thwart one, Christian Ehrhoff hit the crossbar and Adam failed to convert a chance from the left side of the crease.

The Penguins, though, could not prevent Drew Stafford from getting what proved to be the winner at 8:06 of the third, when his shot from outside the right dot ricocheted off the inside of the far post and past Fleury.

Although Staal pulled the Penguins back to within one by tossing a close-range backhander behind Enroth at 15:09, the Penguins could not manufacture the goal that would have forced overtime.

Perhaps because, aside from 21.1 seconds at the end of the game, they had to play the balance of regulation at full- and even-strength, and that has not turned out well for them very often in 2011-12.

"We know we haven't been great at five-on-five," left winger Steve Sullivan said. "We know we have to score more. We know our defensive-zone coverage hasn't been outstanding.

"So those are areas we're definitely trying to address."


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.


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