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Squandered scoring chances prove costly for Penguins

| Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011

No one will question the Penguins' work ethic, but on Saturday night without their stars, the finishing touch required to beat Buffalo simply wasn't there in a 3-2 loss at Consol Energy Center.

Right wing James Neal scored his league-leading fifth goal for the Penguins and center Jordan Staal scored late to the pull them within a goal, but Buffalo's three pretty goals were enough to prevent the Penguins from earning a point for the first time this season.

"It was definitely a lot of opportunities both ways," Staal said. "And we gave them a little too many (chances). Obviously, we didn't take advantage of ours."

The Penguins produced 13 shots in the third period, during which they fell behind by two goals for the first time this season.

They enjoyed numerous odd-man rushes against Buffalo -- one of the league's fastest teams and which dictated the tempo much of the night with its high-flying style.

But again, the Penguins were without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- the latter of whom was ruled out with knee soreness after playing Thursday against Buffalo.

Without the two former scoring champions, the Penguins aren't as equipped to play in back-and-forth games.

"(Finishing) is part of the game," right wing Tyler Kennedy said. "We've got to improve in that area."

The Penguins went 4-0 against Buffalo last season, with one of those games coming with Crosby and Malkin out of the lineup.

Buffalo's wide-open style wasn't unexpected.

"We knew it was going to happen," Neal said. "The way they play, the way their 'D' pinches down on wingers. ... We had some great opportunities to score. (It's) disappointing, because we were so prepared."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma added: "There is a challenge playing a team for the first time ... (but) this Buffalo team was exactly the way we've seen Buffalo play in the past. In terms of being prepared, we should have been right on task. We had opportunities that we need to execute."

Left wing Chris Kunitz missed the net on a two-on-one in the second period. In the third, Staal and center Mark Letestu both enjoyed golden opportunities on two-on-ones. However, Buffalo goalie Jhonas Enroth stopped Staal and, moments later, Letestu wasn't able to release a shot.

Buffalo was far more opportunistic. Left wing Tomas Vanek set up center Nathan Gerbe's goal in the first period on a two-on-none, which resulted because of defenseman Kris Letang's giveaway.

In the third period, only minutes after Staal and Letestu were unable to even the game, Buffalo scored on another rush. Right wing Drew Stafford briefly freed himself from defenseman Zbynek Michalek and blistered a wrist shot past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 25 of 28 shots.

"We had a couple of little breakdowns, gave them good chances," Neal said. "They capitalized."

The Penguins didn't capitalize on many of their chances, but they have an excuse.

To win without Crosby and Malkin against the league's best teams, the Penguins must play hard at all times. And they do, but their schedule has been the NHL's most grueling.

"It is a lot (of games)," Penguins left wing Steve Sullivan said. "Usually October is your softest month on the schedule."

Additional Information:

Fans back officer's family

Penguins fans donated $33,000 on Saturday night to a fundraising effort for the family of slain Lower Burrell police officer Derek Kotecki.

Police officers collected donations for the Derek Kotecki Memorial Fund last night before the Penguins' game against the Buffalo Sabres at Consol Energy Center.

Kotecki was fatally shot Wednesday in the line of duty. He is survived by a wife and two sons.

Malkin sits again

Center Evgeni Malkin missed a third of four games because of right-knee soreness. He also did not participate in a morning practice session.

Malkin had returned Thursday night from a two-game absence, recording two assists in a shootout loss against Washington. However, he did not practice Friday, though coach Dan Bylsma said it was a scheduled day off for Malkin.

Bylsma said Thursday the Penguins expected some early-season soreness to limit Malkin, who underwent surgery to repair torn knee ligaments in February.

Leadership structure

Defenseman Brooks Orpik, who has not played this season because of a re-aggravated abdominal injury, again participated in an individual on-ice workout yesterday morning, Bylsma said. Orpik has not practiced with teammates since Oct. 7.

Bylsma said Orpik will serve as an alternate captain for road games when he and center Sidney Crosby (concussion) rejoin the lineup. Crosby is the captain and Malkin the first alternate. Center Jordan Staal will wear the other 'A' for home games.

This was Bylsma's plan for last season, but a season-opening injury to Staal and second-ending injuries to Crosby and Malkin never afforded him the chance to go forward with it.

Around the boards

Washington center Jay Beagle did not dress for the Capitals last night against Ottawa. He needed help from the ice after a fight with Penguins right winger Arron Asham on Thursday night. The Capitals, per team policy, did not disclose if Beagle is injured. ... The Penguins wore their new alternate uniforms for the first time this season. ... Last night marked the second of an NHL-high 21 games on consecutive nights for the Sabres. Buffalo led the season with 22 back-to-back games last season.

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