PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins are tired. They’re hurting. And in a way, they’re scrambling.
Nothing a visit from the reeling Buffalo Sabres can’t fix.
Sidney Crosby picked up his 13th goal of the season, Tristan Jarry stopped 26 shots and the Penguins extended Buffalo’s winless streak to 15 games with a 5-2 victory on Wednesday night.
Evan Rodrigues, Kris Letang, John Marino and Zach Aston-Reese scored also for the Penguins, who recovered from a sluggish three-game set against New Jersey in which they managed just one victory by pouncing on the undermanned and overmatched Sabres.
“We’re a close group, a very resilient group,” Marino said. “We’ve had a lot of come-from-behind wins, a lot of bounce-back wins (like tonight). It says a lot about the guys in the room.”
Buffalo goalie Dustin Tokarski, making his first NHL start in more than five years with Carter Hutton out due to a lower-body injury, finished with 37 saves and kept the Sabres in it until late in the second period, when Marino and Aston-Reese scored just over 2 minutes apart to give the Penguins all the cushion required.
Rasmus Dahlin scored his second goal of the season and Victor Olofsson beat Jarry on a penalty shot in the third period, but the NHL’s worst team remained in a tailspin.
The Sabres and Penguins complete a consecutive-night, two-game set Thursday.
Buffalo’s 15-game winless streak (0-13-2) is a record for futility since the shootout was introduced during the 2005-06 season, and the league’s longest stretch without a victory since Arizona went 15 games between wins from Feb. 21-March 21, 2004. The Sabres have been outscored 63-30 during their slide.
“Frustration has to be the first and the foremost,” Buffalo center Curtis Lazar said. “As a team and as a whole, we have to understand playing skill-based hockey isn’t going to cut it. … Make every team earn every chance they get. … It’s on us. It’s on us to right the ship here.”
The Penguins haven’t exactly been rolling of late, with forwards Evgeni Malkin, Brandon Tanev, Teddy Blueger and Jason Zucker out with injuries. Head coach Mike Sullivan is tinkering to see how the rest of the pieces fit, and three games against New Jersey provided little clarity.
There might not be much to glean from the performance given the current state of the Sabres, but the Penguins wasted little time taking control.
Rodrigues finished off a pretty end-to-end rush by tapping home a cross-ice feed from Sam Lafferty 7:36 into the first to put Pittsburgh in front. Letang make it 2-0 when a centering pass by Crosby from behind the Buffalo net deflected off Sabres defenseman Colin Miller right to Letang.
Tokarski gamely kept the Sabres in it, and Buffalo received a little jolt when Dahlin’s long shot from the point slipped by Jarry with 2:43 to go in the first. The Penguins, who have a penchant for going into extended lulls, appeared to do just that for much of the second period before Pittsburgh’s role players provided some breathing room.
Marino blasted home a shot from the right circle after solid forecheck work by Aston-Reese and Jared McCann 17:29 into the second. Aston-Reese then made it 4-1 with a short-handed goal in which recently recalled Frederick Gaudreau did all the heavy lifting, creating a turnover at the Pittsburgh blue line then fending off two Sabres before dropping it to Aston-Reese, who sent it into the vacated net.
“Honestly I had no idea he was going to give me the puck,” Aston-Reese said. “I was in awe of the play. It was a really nice play.”
Crosby’s eighth goal in his last 12 games against the Sabres 3:57 into the third left Buffalo in an all too familiar position: woefully behind with the clock mercifully ticking down.
“Obviously we want to win,” Oloffson said. “Everyone’s working hard. We’re just, we’re not working smart all of the time. We’re working hard. … Sometimes (we) dive into a play where we shouldn’t. But obviously, it’s tough.”
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