The Pittsburgh Penguins were coming off a three-game trip through California when they faced Buffalo at PPG Paints Arena Saturday night, and well were aware of the challenges a game like that can pose.
It is, after all, not the least bit unusual for a team to turn in a ragged, inconsistent effort in its first game back after a swing through the West.
But none of those issues were evident during the Penguins’ 4-0 victory against the Sabres, as they were solid from start to finish.
The victory was the Penguins’ fourth in a row and lifted their record to 7-6, putting them back on the positive side of .500 for the first time since they were 2-1.
Tristan Jarry, who was injured late in the second period of the Penguins’ 2-0 victory in Anaheim Tuesday, got the start and finished with 35 saves to record his third shutout.
That the Pittsburgh Penguins were not suffering from the usual effects of returning from the West coast was clear from the earliest shifts, as they outshot Buffalo, 15-14, and had the better of the scoring chances during the opening period.
Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that the Sabres had played Friday night, when they got a 3-2 victory against Minnesota.
Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made several quality stops during the opening 10 minutes, including on close-range backhanders by Buffalo alum Vinnie Hinostroza and Bryan Rust, but eventually was beaten by something that didn’t seem likely to qualify as a shot.
With 58.3 seconds to go before intermission, Evgeni Malkin had the puck near the right-wing corner and tossed a blind backhander toward the Buffalo net. It could have sailed to the other side of the ice … if it hadn’t caromed off Luukkonen’s mask and into the net.
You can watch the goal, which gave Malkin at least one point in 20 of his past 21 games against Buffalo, here.
Ryan Graves, who earlier had put a shot off the crossbar, and Radim Zohorna got assists on the goal, Malkin’s eighth.
The Sabres had the only power play of the opening period, as Graves was sent off for slashing Jeff Skinner at 15:43, but were limited to one shot on Jarry while they had the extra man.
Rust nearly made it 2-0 at 3:05 of the second, but his shot slammed off the crossbar after eluding Luukkonen.
Drew O’Connor gave the Penguins some breathing room at 16:24, beating Luukkonen from the top of the right circle with a wrist shot for his first goal in 32 games. Assists went to Lars Eller and Graves.
Luukkonen kept it a two-goal game with an exceptional stop on Sidney Crosby from the inner edge of the right circle with about two minutes to go before the intermission.
Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin picked up a cross-checking minor with 58.9 seconds to go in the second and, while the Penguins didn’t capitalize immediately, Erik Karlsson did put them up by three 27 seconds into the third.
Erik Karlsson scored his third of the season from the center point, stretching his points streak to five games.
The goal initially was credited to Crosby, but replays showed that it actually hit Sabres defenseman Erik Johnson, not Crosby, on its way to the net.
Crosby extended his scoring streak to eight games by assisting on Karlsson’s empty-net goal at 18:11, which closed out the scoring. He has 81 points in 57 career games against the Sabres.
Jake Guentzel got the second assist.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a scheduled day off Sunday. They plan practice Monday at 11 a.m. at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex before traveling to Columbus for a game against the Blue Jackets Tuesday at 7:08 p.m.