PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Evgeni Malkin had his seventh NHL hat trick, and tied a career high with five points. He was hardly the only Pittsburgh Penguins player to earn a game puck.
Malkin’s outburst moved him into the top five in NHL scoring and led injury-depleted Pittsburgh to an 8-3 win over the Buffalo on Saturday night.
Jason Williams and Simon Despres both scored their first goal with Pittsburgh during the first seven minutes, and James Neal, Deryk Engelland and Chris Kunitz added goals for the Penguins, who had lost four of five.
“It was a very exciting night for us,” said Malkin, whose previous hat trick was Nov. 18, 2010, at Atlanta. “I very (much) enjoyed playing. I don’t know, it was a lucky day for the whole team.”
It certainly was a milestone night for Pittsburgh.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 16 saves and became the fourth-youngest goalie to reach 200 NHL victories since 1967, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Despres’ goal was his first in the NHL, Carl Sneep had an assist in his first NHL game, Pascal Dupuis recorded his 300th point and defenceman Brooks Orpik posted the 100th of his career.
“We haven’t handed that many pucks out after a game ever since I’ve been here,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
Fourteen players had at least a point for the Penguins, who needed a team effort after losing yet another regular player in a 6-4 loss at Ottawa on Friday.
Defenceman Paul Martin (lower-body) didn’t play, joining captain Sidney Crosby, top defenceman Kris Letang, centre Jordan Staal and six others who were already out.
Williams—recalled along with Sneep earlier Saturday from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL—scored 2:17 in. Despres added a power-play goal 3:50 later, and Malkin’s first of the game came 2:36 after that.
“I don’t like talking to doctors at this point in time,” Bylsma said, “But (the strong start) was just what the doctor ordered, yes.”
Thomas Vanek scored for the fifth time in six games, and Luke Adam and Paul Gaustad added third-period goals for Buffalo, which has lost six of nine.
Malkin moved into 10th place on the Penguins’ career assist list with 281 and has 12 points in five games since Crosby was sidelined again.
Crosby was placed on the injured list Saturday due to concussion-like symptoms. The move helped create roster space for the recalls.
The Penguins had lost three of four since Crosby left the lineup. He complained of headaches last week in a recurrence of concussion symptoms that sidelined him from Jan. 5 until Nov. 21.
Malkin, Pittsburgh’s other former NHL scoring champion, has a point in each of the five games Crosby has missed and a goal in four of them.
Malkin was facing the Sabres for the first time since a hit from Buffalo defenceman Tyler Myers in a February game resulted in a torn knee ligament and ended Malkin’s season.
“I’m not thinking about my points; I’m trying to find my game,” Malkin said. “I lost a pretty long time (because of) my knee and started a little bit slow and now I feel a little bit better. I’m just finding my way a little and trying to continue to play better every game.”
His first goal on Saturday chased goalie Ryan Miller to the bench. Malkin scored later in the first against backup Jhonas Enroth off a pass that travelled more than 100 feet from Sneep.
Pittsburgh built a five-goal lead through two periods, but after the Sabres cut the deficit to 6-3 with goals 1:24 apart midway through the third, Malkin struck on the power play. His 15th of the season led to a shower of hats on the ice.
The Penguins scored five times on Miller, who has allowed 12 goals in three games. He returned for the second period, but Enroth played the third.
“I wasn’t good enough,” said Miller, 4-10-3 against Pittsburgh. “I don’t think that was anywhere close to good hockey on my part, so I just have to regroup and recover.”
Neal’s goal gave him 18 on the season and extended his point streak to five games. Neal, Williams, Engelland and Kunitz each had a goal and an assist, and Matt Niskanen and Alexandre Picard both had two assists.
The Sabres entered the game without seven players due to injury, and neither Tyler Ennis nor Colin Stuart finished this one. Ennis aggravated an ankle injury, and is day-to-day, according to Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.
The team didn’t disclose Stuart’s injury, but Ruff said, “We lost him for a good period of time. He’s probably in the month range or something like that.”
NOTES: Fleury, second in the NHL in wins with 16, is 27 years and 19 days old. Only Grant Fuhr, Martin Brodeur and Tom Barasso were younger when they reached win No. 200. … Crosby is eligible to come off the injured list at any time because the minimum seven days has passed since he first missed a game. There is no change in his status. … Orpik assisted Malkin’s first goal, and Dupuis’ assist came on the goal by Engelland.