Penguins find right mix; Sidney Crosby breaks scoring slump in OT win
Sidney Crosby shook off a cold spell.
Phil Kessel stayed hot.
Conor Sheary turned out the lights and shut the door.
The Penguins had their problems Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres, but they made a handful of big, game-changing plays and came away with a 5-4 overtime victory at PPG Paints Arena, improving to 6-0-1 at home this season.
First, the long-awaited Crosby goal.
Crosby came into Tuesday lugging around an 11-game goal drought, sitting one game short of his career-long scoreless streak from 2011-12.
In the second period, during a five-on-three Penguins power play, Crosby camped out at the right post, took a diagonal pass from Kessel, didn't get good wood on his first attempt at a shot and sent the second into the pads of goalie Robin Lehner.
At that point, he had to think he was never going to score again.
"Most times, you find a way to get your stick on it. Sometimes, you miss it, and it goes off your foot and in," Crosby said. "That didn't happen. It's tough when it seems like they're not going in."
In reality, he only had to wait a few minutes. On another power play late in the period, the rebound of a Kessel shot from the left circle fell to the blue paint under Lehner. Crosby buried it to tie the score, 3-3.
"There have been some good chances the last few games here," Crosby said. "I really feel like they'll start to go in now a bit more."
The goal completed the first of two comebacks in the game for the Penguins, who trailed 3-1 and 4-3.
"We stuck with it tonight as good as any night we have in the past," goalie Matt Murray said. "I'm really proud of our effort tonight."
Buffalo's last lead evaporated thanks to the red-hot Kessel, who scored for the fourth consecutive game.
With 6 minutes, 11 seconds left in regulation, he buried a knee-drop one-timer from the bottom of the left circle off a cross-ice saucer pass from Evgeni Malkin to make it 4-4.
Kessel is tied for third in the league in scoring with 24 points in 20 games.
"He's working extremely hard on a daily basis," coach Mike Sullivan said. "From that regard, he's really set an example for our team. I give Phil a lot of credit."
The winning goal came on the first shift of overtime. Crosby fended off defender Evander Kane behind the net and made a pinpoint pass to Sheary at the right post for a goal at the 16-second mark.
"It's almost like you have to always expect he's going to beat his guy one-on-one and just find an open area," Sheary said. "I just hung out backdoor there. He won a battle and found me."
The Penguins needed all those big plays — not to mention a perfect 120-foot bank pass from Olli Maatta that set up a successful two-on-one for Patric Hornqvist and Sheary in the second period –because their overall game was pretty far from airtight.
The first period was particularly problematic. The Penguins gave up a goal to Kane on a two-on-one with Jack Eichel less than four minutes in and a power-play goal to Sam Reinhart off the rebound of a Marco Scandella shot off the end boards 12 minutes later.
The Penguins would have trailed by two going into the second had Hornqvist not banked in a shot from below the goal line off center Ryan O'Reilly 18.7 seconds before intermission.
"We didn't have a great start to that game," Sheary said. "I think we found ourselves in the second and third period. We started playing the right way and we were rewarded in the end, but we gotta make sure we have better starts."
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.