PITTSBURGH — Form didn’t hold Saturday in Columbus. It certainly did here Monday. Two nights after surprising the NHL’s hottest team, the Buffalo Sabres were simply outclassed by one of the league’s best.
The Pittsburgh Penguins shackled the Sabres, 3-0, before 18,563 in Consol Energy Center that saw a game which didn’t feel all that close.
Ryan Miller kept the Sabres afloat in a scoreless first period that saw them get outshot, 15-5. The Sabres were noticeably better in the final 40 minutes - the shots were even at 19-19 - but second-period goals by Chris Kunitz and Deryk Engelland put the Penguins in control and Tanner Glass scored an empty-netter with 27.4 seconds left.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves, including on-the-doorstep jobs in the third period against Brian Flynn and Matt Moulson, to post the shutout. The Sabres were blanked for the seventh time this year and denied a bid to win two straight on the road for the first time since October.
Buffalo returned home immediately after the game and will host the Washington Capitals tonight at 7:30 in First Niagara Center.
Miller was again sharp, even if his presence in goal was a bit of a pregame surprise. He was coming off the sparkling, 36-save showing in Columbus that led the Sabres to a 5-2 win and ended the Blue Jackets’ eight-game winning streak, but poor career numbers against the Penguins had observers wondering if one-win backup Jhonas Enroth might play.
Miller entered game just 7-11-3 against Pittsburgh - with an .888 save percentage that was his worst against any opponent and a 3.26 goals-against average that was second-worst.
“It doesn’t really cross my mind. To me, every game is independent and every game is new,” Miller said. “They’ve had a good team here for a while. I suppose that’s kind of how it’s gone. I felt fine.”
Interim coach Ted Nolan said he simply wanted to play his best against the best.
“I just know how good he is,” Nolan said of Miller, who made 31 saves. “You play him as often as you can.”
It was also a chance for Miller to play in front of Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who will be Team USA’s coach in the Sochi Olympics.
“You can’t always go by highlights, box scores,” Miller said. “It’s a chance for them to scout but for us it’s another game and for me another chance to keep building my game regardless of who’s coaching.
“I know they’re paying attention most nights anyway. I don’t think it makes that big of a difference but it’s a little different perspective when they get to see me in person.”
“The strength of the US team right from the very start of this summer and our talks is in the goaltending position,” said Bylsma, who will choose between Miller and Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick for the No. 1 slot. “Jokingly I had a few offers for trades from other teams to get at least one of our guys. We have a great strength there.”
Miller certainly backed Nolan’s faith, again keeping his positioning strong in the crease and square to shooters.
“The first period we were just in awe watching them do their thing,” Nolan said. “The second period we started playing our game. ... The one thing we want to try to do is at least compete. You can always do that. Skill is skill but when you don’t work, that’s not good.”
The Penguins capitalized on open giveaways by Jamie McBain and Henrik Tallinder for their goals.
“We can’t have glaring mistakes as a team,” Nolan said. “It’s very demoralizing.”
McBain, in particular, had a brutal night in his own zone and seems like a candidate to watch tonight from the press box.
Said Nolan, when asked if McBain struggled: “Ya think?”
Kunitz scored at 5:44 of the second after Miller stoned Sidney Crosby in front but McBain whiffed on an easy clear out of the zone. The puck went to Brian Gibbons, and he hit the post before Kunitz finally potted a back-hander.
The assist gave Crosby a 16-game points streak (9 goals, 16 assists) in games vs. Buffalo dating to Dec. 29, 2007.
Engelland made it 2-0 at 12:05. He snuck in from the right point to take a nifty feed from Glass and chip a shot home from Miller’s left after Tallinder lost the puck along the wall.
The Capitals will be without center Mikhail Grabovski when they meet the Sabres tonight. Grabovski suffered an ankle injury Friday in New Jersey and didn’t make the trip to Buffalo after practice Monday. Grabovski is third on the Caps in both goals (12) and points (33).