MONTREAL – With Sidney Crosby injured, the Pittsburgh Penguins needed a big game from their goaltender.
But instead of Ty Conklin, the hero of their recent winning streak, it was Dany Sabourin who came in off nearly a month’s rest to post a 31-save shutout in a 2-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.
“The first couple of shifts were really important for me after not playing for a month,” said Sabourin, a former Vancouver Canuck who signed as a free agent with Pittsburgh last summer.
“Practices were important. I learned to play like this in Vancouver last year with Roberto Luongo – once a month. I know what I have to do to stay sharp.” It was his first start since Dec. 21 and he posted his second shutout of the season, and of his career.
Conklin had gone 10-0-1 in his first 11 games of the season before the 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday night in which Crosby suffered a high ankle sprain.
Jeff Taffe scored in the first period and Evgeni Malkin added an empty net goal with 13 seconds left to play.
The victory let 27-17-3 Pittsburgh leap over 24-15-8 Montreal into fourth place in the NHL Eastern Conference. It gave the Penguins a 10-1-1 record since Dec. 23 and handed Montreal only its second regulation time loss in its last 11 games.
“The Penguins did what they had to do,” said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau. “They knew that without Sidney, they couldn’t open it up.”
“We didn’t play a bad game. We had chances, but Sabourin played well. But also, we didn’t have 20 guys ready to play. The ones who didn’t play at the end were the ones that weren’t ready.” That likely meant the line Michael Ryder, Guillaume Latendresse and Bryan Smolinski, who saw little ice in the third period.
Malkin, who will be expected the carry the load while Crosby is out, turned in a hard-working game in which he created several glittering chances.
But the Penguins got more bad news when forward Colby Armstrong left in the first period with a bruised hip after falling hard while chasing a puck with Roman Hamrlik.
The Penguins are also missing veteran Gary Roberts and their No. 1 goalie, Marc Andre Fleury, who has missed 19 games with a sprained ankle.
Gilles Meloche, the Penguins goaltending coach, said Sabourin had been asking when he’d get another start and came up big when he got it.
“We’re not going to score four or five goals a game now, and he was up to the challenge,” said Meloche.
The Canadiens, playing their first game after a four-game road trip, were booed by the 21,273 at the Bell Centre for a disjointed effort in which they struggled to put two passes together against tight Pittsburgh checking.
The Penguins came out skating and had the Canadiens on their heels early.
Georges Laraque fought off checking behind the Montreal net and fed Taffe in front for his second goal of the season at 6:14.
“Georges is such a big guy, but he’s more of an offensive force than people think,” said Taffe. “It’s fun playing with him.”
“You get him the puck behind the net and he thinks he’s Wayne Gretzky.” Cristobal Huet was at his best to stop Sergei Gonchar’s drive after Malkin undressed Montreal defenceman Andrei Markov early in the second frame. Shortly after, Huet stopped Petr Sykora on a breakaway.
At the other end, Sabourin faced less spectacular shots, but more of them.
“It shows a lot about him and our team, when you lose the best player in the world and you have a goalie who hasn’t played in a month and he comes up huge for us,” added Taffe.
Montreal is now 2-1-0 against Pittsburgh this season.
Notes: Tyler Kennedy and Ryan Lannon didn’t dress for Pittsburgh, while Steve Begin and Patrice Brisebois sat out for Montreal. … A moment of silence was held before the game for broadcaster Don Wittman, who died on Saturday at 71. … Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter watched the game from the pressbox.