Maxim Afinogenov has goal, assist as Sabres beat Penguins 4-2

Afinogenov had a goal and an assist in his return from a shoulder injury and the Buffalo Sabres beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 Friday night.

Afinogenov missed five games after injuring his shoulder Nov. 4 against Toronto, and was the team’s leading scorer when he went down.

“The first couple of shifts I was careful because I wanted to see how I felt,” he said. “When I got a couple of hits, I knew it was good and I could just relax and play my game. I wanted to come back and help the team, and I think that’s what I did this game.”

Afinogenov put Buffalo in front with a power-play goal 6:06 into the game. Standing just above the goal line to the left of Pittsburgh goalie Jocelyn Thibault, he converted Daniel Briere’s cross-ice pass with a quick wrist shot that got between Thibault and the post for his ninth goal.

The Russian leaped into the air in jubilation when the puck went into the net, and the Sabres knew their electrifying forward was back on board.

“To get Max back was a big plus,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “He gave us instant energy.”

Thomas Vanek, Chris Drury and Ales Kotalik also scored for the Sabres, who used two power-play goals to help secure their league-leading 16th victory. Drury also added an assist as Buffalo won for the fifth time in its last six games.

Martin Biron made 34 saves, including 16 in the second period, to win his fourth game since taking over the starting goaltender duties from the injured Ryan Miller.

The game was a bit bittersweet for Biron, who likely will relinquish the post Saturday when the Sabres travel to Ottawa. Miller is expected to start against the Senators.

“I would say it got better every time I was out there,” Biron said. “My timing got to where I wanted it to be. Tonight I felt I was pushing hard, in the shooting lane and aggressive. I think it really made a difference.”

Sidney Crosby had two goals for the Penguins, who have lost six of their last seven. Mark Recchi added two assists.

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“We can play with these teams, but when we do it has to be for 60 minutes,” said Crosby, who made it 3-2 with 1:01 to go.

Vanek made it 2-0 with his team-leading 13th goal at the nine-minute mark of the second period, solving Thibault on his third scoring attempt during a flurry in front of the Penguins’ goal.

Drury scored his 11th 2 1/2 minutes later while the Sabres had the man-advantage.

Crosby broke through for the Penguins with his eighth of the year, scoring on the rush after accepting a pass from Recchi and wristing a shot over Biron’s right shoulder at 15:14 of the second.

Thibault was making just his third start, and finished with 32 saves. He has yet to win this year.

“It’s frustrating, but I’m battling hard and doing a lot of good things,” he said.

The Sabres helped preserve the win by killing off the first 3:20 of two, two-minute penalties given to Adam Mair midway through the third period. The advantage was cut short when Penguins rookie Evgeni Malkin was whistled for an interference penalty.

Kotalik iced it with an empty-net goal.

Malkin was held without a point in his first game since a federal judge on Wednesday denied a demand by his former Russian hockey club that he be pulled out of the league. Malkin, 20, had just signed a one-year contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, a Russian Super League team, when he abruptly left camp to join the Penguins this fall.

Metallurg Magnitogorsk can appeal the ruling.

Notes: Buffalo C Derek Roy missed his first game with a hand injury that will keep him out of the lineup for up to two weeks. . . . Miller was Biron’s backup Friday. . . . Pittsburgh forward Chris Thorburn was the Sabres’ second-round pick in 2001. The Penguins claimed Thorburn off waivers after Buffalo attempted to send him to the minors following training camp. . . . Drury’s goal was his first in 10 games. . . . Crosby has points in 12 of Pittsburgh’s 17 games.