PITTSBURGH (AP) — The two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins are starting to build momentum after an uneven start to the season.
That hasn’t been the case for the Buffalo Sabres, who were nearly shut out for a fourth straight game.
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist apiece, and the Penguins won their season-best fourth straight game, 5-1 over the slumping Sabres on Saturday.
“I don’t think there’s any special formula,” Crosby said. “I think our mindset has probably been to get more pucks and people to the net and we’ve done that. Sometimes it goes in, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it has been working for us lately, so we have to continue to do that.”
Crosby scored his 12th goal, finding the net for a season-high fifth consecutive game. He has a point in 27 of his last 29 games against the Sabres dating to December 29, 2007. Malkin, who returned Friday after missing four games with an upper-body injury, scored his eighth goal.
“We played very well, but I know we can play better,” Malkin said.
Phil Kessel kept pace with Crosby for the team lead with his 12th goal. Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin also scored for the Penguins, who are 14-0-1 in their last 15 games aginst the Sabres, including an eight-game home winning streak.
Jason Pominville scored his seventh of the season and the Sabres’ first goal since Nov. 24 against Edmonton. The Sabres had been shut out in their previous three games.
“We were different tonight,” Pominville said. “We definitely weren’t as flat as we had been in the previous couple games, but we we’re playing the Stanley Cup champions. You give them a few power plays, you make their top guys feel good about their game and they capitalize.”
The same can be said for the Penguins’ rookie backup goaltender.
Tristan Jarry, who got his first career shutout on Friday against Buffalo, stopped 32 shots to beat the Sabres again in the second game of a home-and-home series. Jarry, who went 116 minutes without allowing a goal, is filling in for Matt Murray, who is week-to-week with a lower-body injury he suffered Monday against Philadelphia.
“I think it helps me grow my confidence that they’re able to put me in a back-to-back situation,” Jarry said. “It’s not something that happens too often at the NHL level. They wanted to see if I could do it, and I was up for the challenge.”
The Penguins blanked the Sabres for 51 minutes before Pominville’s goal ended Buffalo’s scoreless rut at 232 minutes, 9 seconds. Jack Eichel, behind the net, dished a backhand pass to the slot, where Pominville dropped to one knee and ripped a wrist shot behind Jarry.
The Sabres have lost 11 of their past 12 games and are 1-8-2 in their last 11 against Pittsburgh. Chad Johnson stopped 24 shots.
“It feels good for the team to get one and not have to talk about this for hopefully a little while,” Pominville said. “We have to be better and that was a step, but again there are still a few more steps we need to take.”
The Penguins struggled early, with just two shots on three first-period power plays. They scored the game’s first goal late in the period when Malkin flipped a shot past Johnson’s glove during a two-on-one.
Hagelin extended the lead at 5:36 of the second period. He took a pass from Bryan Rust at the goal line and circled in front of the crease, patiently waiting before flipping the puck over Johnson’s outstretched right pad.
Pittsburgh extended the lead with a power-play goal in the final minute of the second period. Crosby worked around Eichel to set up Hornqvist in the slot.
NOTES: Buffalo’s last win against Pittsburgh came on April 23, 2013. … The Penguins swept the season series against Buffalo for the fourth time in the past five seasons. … Sabres D Marco Scandella appeared in his 400th NHL game. … Buffalo recalled F Hudson Fasching from Rochester before the game. … F Matt Moulson was scratched for the Sabres, and D Josh Gorges played for Victor Antipin.
Sabres: Visit Colorado on Tuesday.
Penguins: Continue a season-long five-game homestand Tuesday against the New York Rangers.