Despite a remarkable 10-game winning streak early in the season and drafting Rasmus Dahlin first overall, the Buffalo Sabres' performance in March has mirrored that of their 25-win season one year ago.
What unfolded Thursday night in KeyBank Center may have been worse than any of those meaningless games during their march to last place in 2018. The Sabres were shut out for a third consecutive game — stretching their goalless drought to 197 minutes, 40 seconds in a span of over one week — in a 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Sabres (30-31-9) remained 12th in the Eastern Conference and have lost 12 of their last 14 games, including six straight. They have the second-fewest points in the NHL since December while scoring the sixth-fewest goals during that span.
The Penguins (39-23-5), meanwhile, have earned points in nine of their last 10 and have allowed two or fewer goals in six of their last nine games. They were buoyed by goals from Phil Kessel, Brian Dumoulin, Patric Hörnqvist and Nick Bjugstad.
Casey DeSmith, starting for the first time in 10 games, made 26 saves to earn the shutout. Jeff Skinner's goalless drought reached 13 games — tied for the second-highest of his career — and Jack Eichel served the second and final game of his suspension. Carter Hutton made 20 saves.
Opening salvo: Following an interference penalty on Casey Nelson, Crosby made a cross-slot pass to Kessel, who one-timed a shot into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead at 13:20 into the second period.
Another one: Shots were 9-2 in favor of the Sabres during the second period when Evgeni Malkin corralled the puck, skated around the back of the net, and passed to Dumoulin. The defenseman's wrist shot went over Hutton's blocker for a 2-0 lead with 4:53 left in the second period.
In the box: Marco Scandella was called for hooking at 16:25 into the second period, and the Penguins scored their second power-play goal 43 seconds later when a deflected pass found Hornqvist, whose backhanded shot beat Hutton for a 3-0 lead. The Penguins were 31-0-3 when leading after two periods this season. It was only the second time since November that the Sabres allowed more than one power-play goal in a game.
Sid's second home: Crosby has at least one point in 21 of 22 visits to Buffalo, including points in six consecutive games in KeyBank Center. In 39 career games against the Sabres, Crosby has 20 goals and 41 assists.
Elusive sweep: The Sabres failed to earn a season sweep against Pittsburgh for the first time since they won five straight meetings from Oct. 10, 2005 to Nov. 17, 2006. Still, Buffalo won the season series for the first time since 2012-13.
Uneventful first: While the Sabres attempted 18 shots in the first period, not much happened in the game's opening 20 minutes. Their best scoring chance was a Casey Mittelstadt power-play shot that went off DeSmith's glove midway through the period.
Lineup: Defenseman Zach Bogosian was scratched and remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury suffered during the second period of a 2-0 loss to Dallas on Tuesday night. Winger Zemgus Girgensons was the Sabres' healthy scratch. Additionally, defenseman Jake McCabe remains out with an upper-body injury.
Next: The Sabres are scheduled to practice Friday ahead of a Saturday night matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C.