BUFFALO, N.Y. – Sidney Crosby scored a highlight-reel goal and added an assist, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in a pre-Olympic tuneup against goalie Ryan Miller Wednesday night.
Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Brian Gibbons and minor-league call-up Harry Zolnierczyk also scored for Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 24 shots and the Penguins (40-15-2) set a franchise record by reaching 40 wins in 57 games. That eclipsed the previous mark of 40 wins in 65 games in 1995-96.
Drew Stafford scored for the NHL’s worst team, and U.S. Olympic goalie Miller finished with 29 saves. Buffalo (15-33-8) dropped to 4-9-4 in its past 17 and winless in its last eight home games (0-5-3). That’s the Sabres’ worst home stretch since opening the season 0-8-1.
Crosby scored the go-ahead goal by putting the Penguins up 2-1 with a breathtaking play 2:08 into the second period. It came immediately after Fleury stopped Buffalo’s Brian Flynn in close.
Crosby circled his own net and built up a head of steam by driving up the left wing. Accepting Matt Niskanen’s pass while crossing center, Crosby didn’t break stride in cutting between Flynn and Mike Weber. He then drove toward the net and snapped a shot just inside the top right corner.
Malkin then provided an insurance goal on a breakaway with 2:12 left in the second period. Pouncing on Marcus Foligno’s turnover inside the Penguins’ blue line, Malkin streaked past flat-footed defender Jamie McBain. Driving in alone on Miller, he faked going right and went left to deposit the puck in the open side.
Miller is one of Team USA’s three goalies selected to play at Sochi, and the game against the Penguins was regarded his last chance to make a firsthand impression on U.S. coach, Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma
Miller was coming off his worst outing of the season. He was benched after giving up five goals on 27 shots through two periods in a 7-1 loss at Colorado on Saturday.
Crosby, of course, was Miller’s nemesis at Vancouver. Crosby beat Miller in scoring the gold-medal winning goal in overtime in Canada’s 3-2 win.
Crosby enjoyed a breakout game Wednesday. The goal, his 28th of the season, snapped a five-game drought. And his assist on Zolnierczyk’s goal was his first in three games. The Penguins captain also upped his personal streak at Buffalo, having registered at least a point in all 14 trips.
The Penguins scored five straight after Stafford opened the scoring 5:58 into the game.
Miller was sharp through two periods on Wednesday, and didn’t have much chance on any of the first three goals allowed on the first 28 shots he faces.
The floodgates then opened in the third.
Gibbons made it 4-1 by scoring off a face-off to the right of the Buffalo net by snapping a shot in the short side.
Neal then capped a transition rush with 7:48 left. Accepting Malkin’s drop pass and with Sabres defenders backing in, Neal waited for Malkin to set a screen in front before snapping a shot beating Miller on the stick side.
The Penguins completed a three-game series sweep of the Sabres, and improved to 12-4 in their past 16 meetings.
Crosby had a hand in setting up Zolnierczyk’s goal at the 15:01 mark of the first period by out-muscling Stafford for the puck in the corner. Crosby fed Adams, who then set up Zolnierczyk alone in front.
Notes: The Sabres played without D Tyler Myers, who hurt his right leg in a 3-2 loss to Edmonton on Monday. Coach Ted Nolan has not ruled out Myers from playing in their pre-Olympic break finale at Ottawa on Thursday. … Zolnierczyk stepped into the lineup a day after being recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He replaced Taylor Pyatt (lower body), who was hurt in a 2-1 overtime win over Ottawa on Monday. … Crosby’s assist snapped two-game point drought. The Penguins captain hasn’t gone three games without a point since a five-game stretch from Oct. 31-Nov. 10, 2009.