The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost quite a few points they felt they could have had this season.
The two they surrendered to Buffalo at KeyBank Center Friday night have to sting more than most, however.
The Penguins entered the third period with a 2-0 lead, but gave up three unanswered goals in what became a 3-2 loss to the Sabres.
Alex Tuch capped Buffalo’s comeback by breaking a 2-2 tie from directly in front of the net at 17:16 of the third.
It was the Penguins’ fourth defeat in the past five games and dropped them below .500 (9-10).
Adding possible injury to insult, Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson left the game at 18:10 of the third period after he was struck in the face by the stick of Buffalo’s J.J. Peterka. A four-minute penalty was assessed initially, but it was waved off after a video review confirmed Peterka’s stick hit Pettersson because Peterka had absorbed a big hit from Kris Letang.
Pettersson went directly to the locker room. There was no immediate word on the nature or severity of any injury he might have suffered.
The Penguins were missing their top two right wingers, Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell, for the second game in a row because of injuries, while the Sabres had to play without their top offensive talent, Tage Thompson, for the fourth consecutive game after he was struck on the left wrist by a shot from Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy.
Although the Penguins had been shut out, 1-0, by the New York Rangers in their previous game, coach Mike Sullivan opted to keep Drew O’Connor in Rust’s usual spot with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel and Radim Zohorna in Rakell’s alongside Evgeni Malkin and Reilly Smith.
Crosby scored the only goal in the opening period, beating Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen from about 40 feet out in the slot. The goal, Crosby’s 13th, was set up by Guentzel, who stole the puck near the bottom of the left circle in the Buffalo zone before sliding a pass to Crosby.
It was Crosby’s league-leading 10th goal on the road, and gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead for the 15th time in 19 games this season.
They had gotten off to a fairly unimpressive start, and Sabres right winger Kyle Okposo had a couple of quality chances on his first two shifts. The first yielded a shot off the post, the second forced Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic to make a good stop from close range.
The Sabres got the only power play during the first 20 minutes, as Penguins defenseman Ryan Graves was sent off for tripping Buffalo’s Tyson Jost at 12:42. The Penguins’ penalty-killers limited the Sabres to one shot on Nedeljkovic during that man-advantage.
Luukkonen kept Buffalo within a goal by making good stops on Smith and Nylander during the second minute of the second period, and the Penguins killed another Sabres power play after Smith was called for interfering with Erik Johnson at 5:15, even though O’Connor, who was paired with Lars Eller when the Penguins were shorthanded, had to play without a stick for a significant chunk of it.
The Penguins’ reconfigured power play got its first chance when Tuch elbowed Karlsson in the head at 14:18, drawing an illegal check to the head minor.
New personnel groupings, same blah results.
The first unit — Crosby, Guentzel, Karlsson, Zohorna and Vinnie Hinostroza — and the No. 2 — Kris Letang, Jeff Carter, Malkin, Nylander and Smith — generated two shots on goal and never threatened to score.
Just 26 seconds after Tuch’s penalty ended, however, Eller made it 2-0 by throwing a shot over Luukkonen’s glove from the inner edge of the left circle for his third of the season. Matt Nieto got the lone assist, as he pounced on the puck near the goal line after Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin whiffed on a pass, then fed it to Eller.
Nedeljkovic faced his most severe test in the first two-plus periods at 3:12 of the third, when Buffalo got a 2-on-0 break, but he got his glove on Tuch’s shot from the left side, then lunged to cover the puck in the crease.
But Malkin hooked Buffalo defenseman Mattias Samuelsson at 4:48, and just 25 seconds later, Jeff Skinner beat Nedeljkovic from below the right hash to slice the Penguins’ lead to 2-1.
Before Skinner scored, Letang was thwarted when he attempted to carry the puck out of the defensive zone rather than shooting it.
Okposo finally got a goal at 10:52, although he needed help from the Penguins. He threw the puck toward the net from inside the left circle, and Karlsson inadvertently deflected it past Nedeljkovic.
The Penguins had a chance to regain the lead when Buffalo defenseman Owen Power held Zohorna at 13:29, but did not capitalize on the opportunity and Tuch got the game-winner a few minutes later.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are scheduled to face Toronto, which is coming off a 4-3 overtime loss in Chicago Friday, Saturday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena, marking the third time this season they will play on consecutive days. The Penguins won the second game on both previous occasions.