BUFFALO, N.Y. – As if securing the Pittsburgh Penguins 12th straight victory wasn’t good enough, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was happier to learn that teammates Sidney Crosby extended his impressive scoring streak.
“Sid got a point today? Oh, nice!” Fleury said, when informed the Penguins captain had an assist to register a point in his 18th straight game in Pittsburgh’s 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. “I was a little scared. I didn’t want to ask him. But yeah, good.”
Forgive Fleury for missing that official announcement in the midst of his 34-save performance that extended his personal winning streak to 11.
“Eleven games? Yeah, that’s one, too,” Fleury said. “I think everybody’s happy with that.”
Pittsburgh is on such a roll in all phases that it’s difficult to keep track of all the streaks.
The Penguins (21-8-2) haven’t lost since a 3-2 overtime defeat to the New York Rangers on Nov. 15. They matched a franchise record by winning their seventh straight road game. And, with 44 points, the Pens maintained their lead atop the NHL standings, a point ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers.
With both teams winning on Saturday, it sets up an intriguing all-Pennsylvania midseason showdown between two of the NHL’s top teams at Philadelphia on Tuesday.
As for Crosby’s point streak, in which he has 20 goals and 16 assists, he’s one short of matching a career best.
And in a game Crosby was nearly held off the score sheet, after he failed to score on a pair of second-period breakaways, he came up big with his lone assist. Crosby set up Alex Goligoski’s goal that stood up as the winner 12:09 into the third period.
Dustin Jeffrey had a goal and assist, and Arron Asham, Michael Rupp and Matt Cooke, with an empty-netter, also scored for the Penguins.
Tyler Ennis and Jason Pominville scored for the Sabres (12-14-4), 3-1-1 in their past five.
Despite outshooting the Penguins 36-24, the Sabres blew numerous scoring chances and converted just one of five power-play opportunities as Ennis’ goal came with a two-man advantage.
Pominville was set up alone three times but missed the net twice and turned over the puck by passing instead of shooting. And when the Sabres got shots on goal, Fleury made big saves.
His best came 4:30 in, when Fleury got his left toe out to stop Mike Grier’s attempt at redirecting Paul Gaustad’s centring pass.
“I don’t want to hear you talk about how we had a great opportunity, a missed chance,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “If you’re going to win a game like that, you have to take advantage of the turnovers that we created.”
Ruff knew the Sabres had to be at their best if they were going to get the best of the Penguins.
“If you’re going to beat that team when they’re running that good, put it away,” Ruff said.
The Penguins, coming off a 5-2 win over Toronto on Wednesday, appeared in control when Jeffrey and Asham provided them a 2-0 lead before the first period was 10 minutes old.
The outcome wasn’t decided until the third period, which began with the Penguins nursing a 2-1 lead.
After Goligoski and Pominville traded goals 51 seconds apart, Rupp scored with 3:17 remaining when he poked in Jeffrey’s centring pass behind goalie Ryan Miller.
“We were talking before the game that none of us had the opportunity to win 12 in a row,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “It feels good to get it, but we’re going to put this one behind us and move on to the next one.”
Crosby was already looking ahead to Pittsburgh’s game against the Flyers.
“Obviously, it’s a big rivalry with us,” Crosby said. “That’s going to be a big one.”
Notes: The Penguins have also registered a point in 15 straight games (14-0-1), their longest streak since going 14-0-2 during the 2006-07 season. … Penguins C Evgeni Malkin missed his fourth straight game with a knee injury, but skated mostly on his own Saturday morning for the first time in a week. … Crosby’s career-best point streak is a 19-game stretch, during which he had 11 goals and 19 assists from Oct. 6 to Nov. 17, 2007. … Sabres captain D Craig Rivet was a healthy scratch for an eighth straight game.