The Buffalo Sabres have had trouble with the Pittsburgh Penguins whether Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin play or not.
That changed Saturday night.
Nathan Gerbe and Luke Adam each had a goal and an assist, backup goalie Jhonas Enroth made 29 saves and Buffalo beat Pittsburgh for the first time in almost two years, 3-2.
“We wanted to win this game bad,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “You get an opportunity to play a team without a couple of their star players, you’ve got to start taking advantage of it.”
Still without Crosby, Pittsburgh played this one without Malkin, too. Crosby, though, took part in the morning skate and is cleared for contact as he continues to recover from a concussion sustained nine months ago. There still is no timetable for a return to game action.
Although Malkin returned with a two-point effort Thursday after missing two games, his surgically repaired right knee was sore again Saturday.
Malkin tore his ACL when Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers hit him Feb. 4. Already without Crosby at that point, the Penguins beat Buffalo that day anyway. And again on March 8 to close out a season series sweep and extend their run against Buffalo to 15-4-1 - including 8-1-1 in the past 10 meetings in Pittsburgh. The Sabres’ previous win over the Penguins was Dec. 29, 2009, in Buffalo.
“It’s a huge road win to come into this place and take two points,” said Adam, a 21-year-old who has doubled his career goal output in four games this season.
“Jhonas kept us in the game all game long,” Adam added. “He gave us a great effort back there, and when your goalie is playing well in front of you, it gives the guys a lot of confidence.”
Gerbe had a first-period goal to open the scoring, and he deftly left the puck on a drop pass for Drew Stafford’s goal with 11:54 to play that gave the Sabres a two-goal lead. The Penguins lost in regulation for the first time in six games this season.
James Neal scored for the third consecutive game, extending his NHL-leading goal total to five for Pittsburgh (3-1-2).
Jordan Staal added a third-period goal for the Penguins, whose streak of earning at least a point in five straight games to open the season was their best in 17 years.
Gerbe gave Buffalo a lead it would never relinquish Saturday with his first of the season off a rebound of a shot by Adam.
Playing for the second consecutive day after taking six days off following their season-opening trip to Europe, the Sabres controlled the first period. Adam scored with 5:55 to play, his third, off a setup from Thomas Vanek following a turnover by Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.
“It was a nice boost when we got two quick goals,” Enroth said.
Enroth earned the backup job last season to Ryan Miller, who has averaged 67 games over the past six years. Ruff said he wants to get Enroth more starts.
“I thought he played an excellent game,” Ruff said. “He looked really sharp. He had a great preseason for us, and ... had quite a (long time between games). I thought he answered the call in excellent fashion.”
Neal made it 2-1 with his fourth in three home games this week 2:11 into the second. Neal corralled a puck low along the left-wing boards and wristed it toward the net. The shot caromed off the stick of Sabres defenseman Robyn Regehr, who was trying to sweep it out of danger, and found its way into the net just inside the far post.
“Just putting pucks on the net,” Neal said. “When things are going good, you get bounces like that.”
Stafford’s third goal in three games came 8:06 into the third, a period Pittsburgh dominated.
Staal’s second of the season with 4:51 left pulled the Penguins to 3-2, but Enroth made 13 saves in the period. He didn’t have to make any over the final 22 seconds, when the Penguins skated 6 on 4 due to a Derek Roy delay-of-game penalty and the fact goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled.
“We didn’t quit,” said Staal, “but it was kind of too little, too late.”