Saturday, 10.15.2011 / 12:06 AM
Their MVP hasn't played in more than nine months, their former scoring champ and Conn Smythe winner is still feeling the effects of last season's knee injury, and yet the Pittsburgh Penguins have jumped out to their best start in 17 years.
They'll be shorthanded again as they try to keep it going.
is still out and Evgeni Malkin
won't play either Saturday night at Consol Energy Center as Pittsburgh tries to extend its winning streak against the Buffalo Sabres to seven.
While the Penguins (3-0-2) received some good news Thursday when Crosby was cleared for full contact, it's uncertain when the 2007 Hart Trophy winner will be ready for game action as he continues his comeback from concussion-like symptoms that have sidelined him since Jan. 5.
Malkin, though, came back Thursday after missing two games with lingering soreness in his surgically repaired right knee and recorded two assists in a 3-2 overtime loss against Washington.
"Geno came back and he was flying tonight," left wing James Neal
said after scoring twice.
While he looked good against the Capitals, Malkin's knee is still bothering him. He did not participate in Saturday's morning skate, and won't play against the Sabres.
With Crosby out and Malkin hurting, Neal has done a great job picking up the scoring load, tallying a league-best four goals to help the club get off to its best start since opening 7-0-0 during the lockout-shortened 1995 season.
"Coming in and getting accustomed to everything and becoming good buddies with everybody is an adjustment and takes time," Neal told the Penguins' official website. "I'm fortunate enough it's been easy here to come in. The guys are very welcoming and that helps a lot."
Neal, though, had just one goal and five assists in 20 games last season following a Feb. 21 trade from Dallas. That score, plus an assist, came in a 3-1 home win over Buffalo on March 8 when the Penguins completed the four-game season sweep.
, who started each of those and has is 5-0-0 with a 1.80 goals-against average in his last five starts against Buffalo, should be in net Saturday after sitting out Thursday due to flu-like symptoms.
The Penguins need a healthy Fleury as they open a stretch of five games in eight days.
"The Sabres have been a good team. It should be a good challenge," he said.
Buffalo (2-1-0) hopes it's up for the challenge as it kicks off a four-game trip following Friday's 4-3 loss to Carolina. Playing for the first time since winning both its games in Europe, the Sabres gave up a power-play goal to Jeff Skinner with 1:24 left - just 57 seconds after Drew Stafford's second score of the season tied it.
Buffalo went 0 for 7 on the power play and surrendered a pair of short-handed goals.
"It's a tough one to handle," Stafford said following the Sabres' first game in six days. "We need to clean up our power play a little bit, take a little more responsibility and pride in not letting teams get those short-handed chances."
The Sabres have been solid by killing 11 of 13 penalties, but they can't afford to be a man down against the Penguins, whose six power-play goals tie Ottawa for the league lead.
Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who allowed a season-worst four goals Friday, lost three games to the Penguins in 2010-11 and is 1-6-0 with a 3.70 GAA in his last seven starts in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins have won four straight and seven of eight at home versus Buffalo.