PITTSBURGH – Ryan Miller made 31 saves on 33 shots, but it wasn’t enough as the Buffalo Sabres fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 at Consol Energy Center on Monday.
The Penguins, who sit atop the Eastern Conference standings, are 17-0 when scoring first at home and have been dominant at Consol Energy Center.
Buffalo wasn’t happy with the effort they put forth in the first 20 minutes.
“The first period, we just stood and watched,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. “We didn’t compete. The one thing we want to try to do is at least compete.”
Miller stopped all 15 shots he saw in the first period. The Sabres were outshot 15-5 in that opening frame. Miller said it took the team some time to find its legs but thought their play improved as the game wore on.
“Just a comfort-level thing. We just kind of dipped the toe in the water and once we figure out it was a hockey game, it was a normal kind of hockey game, we looked better,” Miller said.
Chris Kunitz opened the scoring 5:44 into the second period, capitalizing on a failed clearing effort by the Sabres. The goal came seconds after Miller made a big save on Sidney Crosby and then Brian Gibbons hit the left post. The rebound off the post came to Kunitz, who backhanded it into the back of the net.
Then Deryk Engelland made it 2-0 by putting in a Tanner Glass feed from the left corner with 7:55 remaining in the second.
“The second period, we decided to start working. The first one, I think we were in awe just watching them do their thing and I thought in the second, we started playing our game. Outside of those two glaring turnovers – they were just very glaring turnovers and that’s how they got their two goals.”
Tanner Glass added an empty-net goal with 27.4 seconds left in regulation.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves to earn his fourth shutout of the season.
The Sabres were coming off a win Saturday night in Columbus that snapped the Blue Jackets’ eight-game winning streak. Against the Penguins, they were unable to capitalize on their chances and build off of that victory.
“I think we might’ve sat back a little bit. They have a lot of fire power and maybe we were giving them too much respect,” Sabres center Tyler Ennis said. “You have to play these guys really hard and I think we played harder in the second and third. Fleury made some good saves.”
The Sabres had a few quality chances in the third. About three minutes into the third with Fleury out of position, Brian Flynn backhanded a shot parallel to the goal line and across the crease.
“Phil [Varone] made a great pass,” Flynn said. “I just tried to go quick five-hole before he could drop but he made a save, it popped out to me and I kicked it up to my backhand. I didn’t have a very good angle. Just a tough play, but one of the ones I’d like to have back.”
Then, Matt Moulson put a point-blank shot into Fleury’s right pad just over four minutes into the third.
“Matty and I each had a good one on the doorstep that, in games like this, you have to put away if you want to win these games,” Flynn said.
The missed chances may have weighed on the team as the game wore on, according to Nolan.
“We had a number of chances. We just didn’t capitalize on them,” he said. “We’re a team where we can’t have glaring mistakes. It’s very demoralizing. It demoralized us for a little bit and we woke up in the third period, we made a push, but not good enough.”
The Penguins penalty kill, the League’s best, killed off all three of Buffalo’s opportunities with the man advantage. Buffalo ended up with only three shots on goal during those power plays.
Pittsburgh is 25-for-25 on their penalty kill since Dec. 19 have killed off 22-straight Buffalo power plays during the past 10 games the two teams have played in Pittsburgh.
With the Winter Olympics fast approaching, the matchup also provided Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and Penguins general manager Ray Shero an up-close look at Ryan Miller, one of the players they’re evaluating for Team USA.
For Miller, he said he knows that USA Hockey brass is always watching anyways and he tired to treat this game as he would any other.
“It’s a chance for them to kind of scout me, I guess. That’s kind of what they’ve been doing, is try to see us in person and how we can handle ourselves,” he said. “You can’t always go by highlights, box scores, tape. So it is a chance to scout, but for us, it was just another game. And for me, it’s another chance to just keep building my game, regardless of who’s coaching.
I know they’re paying attention most nights anyways. I don’t think it makes that much of a difference, but maybe just a little bit different perspective when they get to see me in person. ”
The Sabres will have little time to dwell on the loss. They host the Washington Capitals on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at First Niagara Center. Then, they embark on a two-game road trip that takes them to Phoenix on Thursday and Colorado on Saturday.
The game against the Capitals will be nationally televised on NBCSN.