PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Maybe the Pittsburgh Penguins are getting a little too used to playing without their superstar scoring champions.
They might have to do it for even longer now.
Missing Sidney Crosby for the 12th consecutive game, Pittsburgh welcomed back Evgeni Malkin after a five-game absence only to lose him seconds into the second period. But Malkin leaving the ice seemed to ignite a Penguins rally.
Dustin Jeffrey scored the first of three Pittsburgh goals in a span of 3:14 shortly after Malkin was hurt and the Penguins rallied for a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke also scored for Pittsburgh, which has won five consecutive and eight of nine.
“You never want to see (Crosby and Malkin) out, but we’ve played for a good little stretch now without both of those guys,” defenceman Brooks Orpik said. “Everyone’s elevated their game a lot.”
Paul Gaustad and Mike Grier scored for Buffalo, playing its first game in 10 days.
Malkin’s first game back after dealing with a left knee injury and sinus infection ended when he was hurt during the first shift of the second period with a lower-body injury after a collision with Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers.
The Penguins did not expound on the severity of Malkin’s injury, saying only he would be evaluated Saturday.
Malkin appeared to be skating hard throughout the first period—generating a game-high three shots to that point—but he was a minus-2 as Pittsburgh trailed 2-0.
Twenty-one seconds into the second, Malkin gingerly left the ice after Myers checked him into the boards in the left-wing corner and then fell awkwardly back into him. It was not clear which leg was injured during the sequence.
“I didn’t go in there looking to hurt him; I just wanted to engage him and it just ended up that it was an awkward way we went in,” the six-foot-eight Myers said.
The Penguins are 9-1 without Malkin this season and improved to 8-3-1 without Crosby (concussion), who was leading the NHL in goals and points when he was sidelined.
Jeffrey scored 3:29 after Malkin left the ice, the first of three that went in over a span of four Penguins shots.
“I wouldn’t think that (Malkin’s injury) was a catalyst or an indicator that our team got going,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “But we needed to wake up from where we were at in the first.”
Kennedy tied it 2:34 after Jeffrey’s tally with his second goal in as many games, beating Ryan Miller with a wrist shot for his ninth of the season.
Forty seconds later, Cooke gave Pittsburgh its first lead with his 10th off a feed from Jordan Staal.
“I think it’s a credit to our team that we can bounce back the way that we kind of took over that game,” said Jeffrey, a rookie who has five goals in 10 games this season, including three in his past five. “We started going North, we tightened up defensively and I think we became a lot more physical.”
Since the Sabres last played, the franchise was sold and rookie Tyler Ennis represented the team in Raleigh, N.C., for all-star weekend.
Buffalo didn’t come out rusty, scoring on the first shift of the game and adding another 7:03 in.
Gaustad’s sixth of the season and second in three games came after Alex Goligoski turned the puck over to Rob Niedermayer, who fed Gaustad in the slot.
Grier was credited with the goal that made it 2-0, his first since Nov. 11 and third of the season, when the puck deflected off of the skate of Pittsburgh defenceman Deryk Engelland and past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
“We let up in the second period, and they took advantage of it,” Sekera said. “I don’t think it was panic, I just think we didn’t play our best.”
Fleury made 27 saves to win his seventh consecutive start, allowing only 12 goals in that time and improving to 25-11-2.
“There’s a huge recognition of responsibility when certain players aren’t in the lineup,” Cooke said. “We have to find ways to win.
“No one wants to see anyone get hurt, but it happens. I think we as a group do a great job, our defence, (Fleury), everybody. Everyone’s stepping up and raising their level to help this team be successful.”
NOTES—Two nights before the Steelers play in the Super Bowl, the Penguins encouraged fans to bring Terrible Towels to the game and aired a video tribute wishing good luck to the Steelers on the scoreboard. … Pittsburgh has won five in a row at home and five straight against Buffalo. … The Sabres entered on a 9-3-1 run, having won two consecutive and four of five.