Share this article

print logo

Team effort takes away time, chances from Pens' Malkin

Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin hit town as the NHL's leading scorer and had five points when the Penguins bludgeoned the Sabres, 8-3, on Dec. 17. He wasn't anywhere near that good Sunday.

A quintet of Sabres dedicated to stopping Malkin's line got the job done. Forwards Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta and Nathan Gerbe, and the defense tandem of Robyn Regehr and Andrej Sekera got the bulk of the work as Malkin registered just one assist in Buffalo's 6-2 win.

"We had to take away speed and time from him," Gaustad said. "Robyn and Reg [Sekera] did a great job out there too. We didn't want to back off on him. If we backed off, it gives him time."

Malkin and linemates James Neal and Chris Kunitz have combined for 100 points in 30 games since Dec. 10, with Malkin collecting 45 (22 goals, 23 assists). Neal, who got a six-year, $30-million contract extension Sunday morning, had one assist.

Kaleta played 18 minutes, 47 seconds -- just 10 seconds off his career high for a regulation game -- while Gaustad's 18:14 was his second-highest total in 2012.

The Gaustad line held the Montreal trio of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Erik Cole to two points Friday night while setting up Regehr's first goal of the season.

"That was our job and we take pride in that," Kaleta said of the back-to-back challenges. "I'm up to the task, up to the challenge. It's fun."

"The last two games they did a fabulous job," said coach Lindy Ruff. "They just flat-out outworked the other team's top line."

Gaustad scored his seventh goal of the season Sunday early in the second period, stuffing home a Gerbe rebound for his seventh point in the last 10 games. Later in the period, Kaleta burst down the right wing and set up Gerbe perfectly on a 2-on-1 but Gerbe clanked his shot off the goalpost.

"Hey, I can skate," said a beaming Kaleta. "You just get it, take off and go as hard as you can to create as much space as you can [from the chasing defenseman]."

Kaleta also had an unsuccessful penalty shot midway through the second after the Penguins threw a loose stick on the ice at the puck. Kaleta worked up plenty of speed and his wrist shot leaked through goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury but deflected wide.

"I just tried to get down there and stayed patient," Kaleta said. "I got a shot and maybe I could have got it a little higher and maybe sold a better shot. I'll have to talk to some of the other guys and go back to the drawing board."

No need, however, to worry about Kaleta on the defensive end.

"Patty is a skilled guy for how hard he works and how physical he is," Gaustad said. "He makes plays. He did a great job again. Defensively, he's getting smarter and smarter and it's great to see."

***

The Sabres reported glass from an arena light bulb, not a photographer's strobe, smashed to the ice just as the team came on for the pregame warmup. The team tried to keep skating but there was too much glass on the ice and eventually, the players moved to the Penguins end when Pittsburgh was done and got permission from the NHL for an additional five minutes of warmup.

"There were pretty big chunks," said goalie Ryan Miller. "The reason we took long shots was I didn't want to take glass in the face from guys sweeping in close, and potentially getting an eye injury from that. We just waited our turn for a little bit of warmup."

Ruff said chunks were about half the size of a penny and the players were hurriedly getting skates resharpened.

"Overall the league handled that situation pretty well," Ruff said.

***

The Penguins fell to 51-32-9 the last two years without Sidney Crosby and are 28-19-4 this year. Crosby, their concussed captain, skated with the team Friday but has no timetable to return from his latest concussion battle.

***

The game was the Sabres' only Sunday contest of the season. To prep for the NBC telecast, they were off Saturday for the first time while other teams were playing; their previous two Saturdays off were league-wide breaks for Christmas Eve and the All-Star break. Miller had been 0-4-1 with a 4.67 goals-against average in his last seven games against the Penguins, and beat them for the first time since Dec. 8, 2008. Zack Kassian's assist on Tyler Ennis' goal with 3:17 left snapped his 13-game pointless streak.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com