PITTSBURGH – On an uncommon night when the biggest cheers were for an opposing player who didn’t step on the ice, the Pittsburgh Penguins kept the Buffalo Sabres in their pre-Olympic slump.
Sidney Crosby? He didn’t star in his first game since winning the Olympic gold for Canada, but the Penguins still had enough offence to beat the Sabres 3-2 as Ruslan Fedotenko had a goal and an assist and Sergei Gonchar scored his 200th career goal.
The Sabres remained one point behind Ottawa for the Northeast Division lead despite losing their seventh in eight games.
Crosby, playing two days after beating United States goalie Ryan Miller for the game-winning overtime goal for Canada in Vancouver, missed out on opposing Miller again when Sabres coach Lindy Ruff started backup Patrick Lalime.
Ruff said Miller deserved a night off after the emotionally draining two-week Olympic tournament in which Miller was chosen MVP. Crosby was a little tired following a late-night return to Pittsburgh on Monday, but hasn’t had a post-Olympic letdown – yet.
“It’s not bad, (despite) going on a long flight and getting here and getting right back in the swing of things,” Crosby said. “I’ll try to manage my rest as we go along here, but I felt all right considering all that.’
Crosby played 17 1/2 minutes, about four minutes fewer than usual. The lack of power play time – the Penguins went 1-for-2 with the man advantage to Buffalo’s 0-for-4 – figured in that.
“I probably could have played more, but we had all four lines going and played a good, solid team game,” Crosby said.
The post-Olympic buzz created by the memorable Canada-U.S. game was evidenced by the standing ovations given Miller and Crosby during pre-game introductions – and, for perhaps the first time in his career, Crosby drew fewer cheers than an opposing player. The ovation given Miller was noticeably louder and longer.
Twice when replays of Crosby’s game-winner were shown on the Mellon Arena scoreboard, there was perceptible booing – not that Crosby scored, but because the U.S. lost.
Miller watched the game from a Mellon Arena runway, where the fan sitting nearest to him wore a Canada Olympic jersey with Crosby’s name across the back.
The Penguins lost three of their final four before the Olympic break, all in overtime or a shootout, before beating Buffalo for the third time in four games.
Fedotenko, an inconsistent scorer, gave Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead at 11:03 of the third – a goal the Penguins needed after Derek Roy scored at 15:21 on a shot that wasn’t originally ruled a goal. The puck entered and exited the net so quickly that the officials did not signal a goal until after a video review.
“I must have been the only guy in the building who thought it went in,” Roy said.
Gonchar, who played for non-medallist Russia during the Olympics, put the Penguins up 1-0 with a shot from the top of the slot during a power play at 14:58 of the first, with Alex Goligoski and Crosby assisting. Buffalo began the game with the NHL’s top-rated penalty killing unit.
Pascal Dupuis made it 2-0 by taking Fedotenko’s pass along the goal line and beating Lalime inside the near post at 3:13 of the second.
“I saw in the corner of my eye Dupes (Dupuis) going to the back door there and I was trying to kind of wrap it around,” Fedotenko said. “I threw the puck on net and it ended up right on his stick.”
Toni Lydman answered for Buffalo less than three minutes later with a one-timer from the top of the left circle on a play created by Patrick Kaleta’s drop pass. Lydman played for bronze medallist Finland in Vancouver.
“Physically it (the Olympics) wasn’t that big of a deal but maybe mentally it’s a little more draining than a usual regular season game,” Lydman said. “But you can’t blame it on the break, they had some guys who played in the tournament, too.”
Penguins goalie Brent Johnson made 26 saves and Lalime stopped 25 shots. Lalime turned aside 50 of 51 shots while going 1-0-1 in his two previous appearances against the Penguins this season. Miller allowed three goals to Crosby during his most recent start against Pittsburgh, a 5-4 Penguins victory on Feb. 1.
NOTES: Evgeni Malkin has eight goals and 15 assists in 14 games, including an assist on Dupuis’ goal. … D Jordan Leopold, acquired Monday in a trade with Florida, made his Pittsburgh debut and was paired with Goligoski.