BUFFALO, N.Y. – Sidney Crosby is so prolific, good things happen even when the Pittsburgh Penguins’ star isn’t attempting to make a pass.
That was the case in how Crosby helped the Penguins rally to a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. Crosby finished with a goal and two assists, including setting up defenseman Paul Martin’s go-ahead goal with 2:04 remaining.
Accurate as Crosby’s pass was in finding an open Martin in the high slot, the Penguins’ captain acknowledged he wasn’t looking to set up his teammate.
“Honestly, the puck was poked off my stick,” said Crosby, who had dug the puck out of the corner of the Sabres zone and was attempting to skate into the middle. The Penguins got another break when Martin’s shot deflected in off Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and past goalie Ryan Miller, who was screened.
What’s not a fluke is Crosby in the familiar position of being among the NHL points leaders a month into the season.
With 24 points (seven goals and 17 assists), Crosby ranks second following a 10-game surge, in which he has four goals and 14 assists.
“I think the speed of the game and the comfort of timing and all that is starting to feel a little bit better,” Crosby said.
After five seasons in Pittsburgh, coach Dan Bylsma still marvels at Crosby’s play.
“It’s not ordinary,” Bylsma said. “You realize you’re watching somebody at a different level. So to say you ever take it for granted it’s absolutely not at all.”
Pascal Dupuis had two goals and an assist for Pittsburgh, which won its third straight and improved to 8-2 in its past 10 to move one point ahead of idle New Jersey atop the Eastern Conference standings.
After building a 2-0 lead before the game was 90 seconds old, the Penguins were forced to rally from a 3-2 deficit.
The Sabres, in comparison, had nothing to show for their comeback after giving up two goals in the final 13 minutes.
Miller was so upset with how the team lost in squandering a third-period lead, he resorted to using several profanites in addressing reporters following the game.
“Either we’re not confident enough or experienced enough with a lead in the third period,” Miller said. “That burned us. That’s not acceptable.”
Thomas Vanek had a goal and assist, while Steve Ott and Cody Hodgson also scored for the Sabres. Buffalo failed to build off a 4-2 win over Boston on Friday, and has now gone 4-9-1 in its past 14 games. Buffalo has yet to win two in a row at home, and dropped to 2-9-0 in its past 11 against Pittsburgh.
Turnovers and defensive breakdowns cost the Sabres on Sunday.
Less than 2 minutes after Ott scored to put Buffalo ahead 3-2, the Penguins countered with Kris Letang eluding two Sabres defenders along the left boards and then setting up Dupuis for a one-timer in the right circle.
“Ryan made some big saves to keep us in there,” captain Jason Pominville said. “I think it’s up to us to be better in our zone.”
Miller bounced back after allowing the Penguins to score on their first two shots on goal. He finished with 31 saves, with his best coming with 3:08 left in the third period. That’s when Miller got across to his left to snag James Neal’s one-timer from the right circle.
Dupuis opened the scoring 35 seconds in by deflecting in Brooks Orpik’s point shot. That extended a Penguins streak in which they’ve now scored the opening goal in all 10 road games this season. Crosby scored 33 seconds later.
Crosby extended his scoring streak against Buffalo to 14 games, a stretch in which he has 23 points (eight goals and 15 assists).
“For whatever reason, I’ve always been able to put some points up here,” Crosby said of his success against Buffalo. “It’s great ice here. That’s all I can say.”
NOTES: Bylsma elected to play 6-foot-4, 215-pound D Robert Bortuzzo to add size to his lineup against the physical Sabres. Replacing D Simon Despres, Bortuzzo played his eighth game of the season after sitting out two. … Sabres rookie C Mikhail Grigorenko was a healthy scratch for only the second time this season, and second time in four games. The Russian-born player also had family attending the game. … Sabres coach Lindy Ruff turned 53 on Sunday. At 571-451-162 in 15 seasons in Buffalo, he’s the franchise’s winningest coach and is the longest tenured with the same team among active NHL coaches.