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The Buffalo Sabres haven't been playing well offensively, and that lack of scoring has resulted in eight losses in their past 11 games. Their penalty killing, however, has kept them in every game.
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Keeping Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins in check is an entirely different challenge, though, one the Sabres' hope they'll be up to Monday night at Mellon Arena.
Buffalo (12-11-3) hasn't scored more than four goals since Nov. 1, and it's scored two or fewer in nine of its last 15 games, a 5-9-1 stretch. The Sabres could only muster three goals during a recent three-game losing streak, yet they were in all three contests thanks to a fantastic penalty kill.
In all, Buffalo has gone six games - and 24 times shorthanded - without allowing a power-play goal, and keeping the Tampa Bay Lightning off the board Saturday paid off. The Sabres killed all six Lightning power plays, and Thomas Vanek scored his league high-tying 19th goal, helping Buffalo snap its skid with a 4-3 win.
"It's great," said center Derek Roy, who scored the game-winner in the third period. "We're moving our feet, active sticks. Obviously, your best penalty killer is your goaltender, and (Ryan Miller's) made some great saves. On the other hand, we're just working really hard at it."
Buffalo had perhaps its best penalty-killing effort of the season last Saturday against the Penguins (15-7-4). Crosby scored two even-strength goals on assists from Malkin, but the Sabres' stopped all seven Pittsburgh power plays in a 4-3 come-from-behind win.
They killed a two-man advantage at the start of the third that paved the way for Buffalo's two-goal comeback.
"Killing that completely killed any type of momentum they had or could have had," right wing Derek Stafford said. "It all started there."
Since a 5-2 home win over Buffalo on Nov. 15, the Penguins have alternated wins and losses in their last nine games, and during much of that stretch, struggles with the man advantage have killed any chance of consistency.
Pittsburgh went 2-for-30 (6.7 percent) on the power play in seven games from Nov. 18-Dec. 3. The Penguins broke out of their slump with two power-play tallies in a 5-2 win at Carolina on Thursday, then went 1-for-2 with the man advantage Saturday despite losing 3-2 at Ottawa.
Jason Spezza had his second career hat trick for the Senators.
"We didn't start well and Spezza had his big second period and gave them the lead. It's a matter of momentum a lot of times," said Crosby, who had an assist to extend his point-scoring streak to six games. He has six goals and nine assists in the span.
Crosby's recent surge has him just three points behind Malkin for the NHL scoring lead. Malkin had a goal and an assist on Saturday, the first time he'd found the back of the net in five games.
Malkin has a four-game point streak against the Sabres, during which he's recorded three goals and six assists.
But neither Crosby nor Malkin has scored as many goals as Vanek, who's tied with Philadelphia's Jeff Carter for the NHL goal-scoring lead. Vanek has scored a goal in both games against the Penguins.
Miller is 1-3-0 with a 4.20 goals-against average in his last four games against Pittsburgh. Dany Sabourin (6-3-2, 1.96 GAA) is expected to be in goal for the Penguins after rookie John Curry got the last start against Buffalo.