The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t fared very well in the second game when playing on consecutive nights this season.
Not until Saturday night, anyway.
Before that, the Penguins had played six back-to-back sets, and won the second game all but, uh, five times.
But whatever issues caused them to go 1-4-1 in those half-dozen games were not evident during their 3-1 victory against the Buffalo Sabres at PPG Paints Arena, as the Penguins started strong and were fairly solid most of the rest of the way while winning their fifth consecutive game and raising their record to 16-8-4.
It also helped that Sidney Crosby scored two goals and set up another, pushing his points total for the season to 38 in 28 games.
Picking up the two points — and, in the process, taking the season series from the Sabres — probably wasn’t even the most uplifting, satisfying aspect of the evening for the Penguins.
That’s because defenseman Kris Letang, sidelined since suffering a mild stroke Nov. 28, returned to active duty, working on the No. 2 pairing with P.O Joseph and the second power-play unit. Letang replaced Chad Ruhwedel and handled the same heavy workload that he always does.
Letang played a team-high 22 minutes, 14 seconds, just nominally under his previous average of 23 minutes, 53 seconds per game. He recorded a team-leading seven hits and blocked three shots.
“I thought he played a terrific game,” Mike Sullivan said.
Ryan Poehling, who missed the previous two games because of an unspecified upper-body injury, also was back in the lineup. He reclaimed his spot with Teddy Blueger and Josh Archibald on the fourth line, bumping Danton Heinen into street clothes.
The Penguins got a scare when Jeff Petry appeared to injure his wrist or arm behind the Penguins’ net with about two minutes left in regulation. He dropped his stick and skated to the bench, then ran to the dressing room, but said after the game that he is fine.
The Sabres’ lineup had a few changes, too: Left winger Jeff Skinner served the first game of a three-game suspension for cross-checking Jake Guentzel in the face Friday night, and was replaced on Buffalo’s No. 1 line and top power play by Casey Mittlestadt. Sabres defenseman Henri Jokiharju was scratched because of an unspecified injury that has him classified as “week-to-week.”
The Penguins were awarded a power play just 61 seconds into the game, but were unable to capitalize on it. They got another opportunity at 3:21, however, and made the most of it.
Rickard Rakell gave them a 1-0 lead at 4:22, when he rapped in the rebound of an Evgeni Malkin shot from the left dot for his 12th of the season.
Crosby, who picked up the second assist on Rakell’s goal, scored one of his own at 6:51, backhanding a shot past Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen from the left side of the crease. Guentzel and Brian Dumoulin received assists on that goal, Crosby’s 16th.
The Penguins had an 8-1 advantage in shots at one point, but Buffalo whittled that to 11-9 by the end of the period, thanks in part to a pair of power plays. Guentzel was called for interference at 12:26 and Dumoulin went to the box for the same offense at 16:16.
The Sabres entered the game averaging a league-high 3.96 goals per game, but Casey DeSmith, making his first start in six games, held them off the scoreboard until 11 minutes into the third period, when Peyton Krebs deflected a Casey Fitzgerald shot past him.
That was the only one of Buffalo’s 38 shots that eluded him.
Crosby snuffed Buffalo’s comeback by scoring his second of the game at 18:22, beating Luukkonen from inside the left circle to close out the scoring.
The Penguins got a power play with one second to play. They did not score on it.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a scheduled day off Sunday, then will face Dallas Monday at PPG Paints Arena before going on a two-game trip to take on Florida and Carolina.