PITTSBURGH - Unusual enough that the Pittsburgh Penguins scored seven goals without Sidney Crosby. Stranger still, their highest-scoring game all season swung not on all that offence, but a game-changing penalty kill.
Ty Conklin beat Buffalo for the fourth time this season and the Penguins got goals from Evgeni Malkin and rookies during a 7-3 victory over the Sabres on Wednesday night.
Tyler Kennedy scored his first goal in 17 games during a three-point night, Chris Minard added the first goal of his 10-game NHL career and Malkin put in his 39th of the season as the Penguins improved to 12-6-4 when Crosby doesn't play because of an ankle injury.
Crosby, coming off a two-goal effort Sunday against Washington in his third game after missing 21 with a high ankle sprain, had recurring pain during the morning skate. He has missed 22 of the Penguins' last 26 games with the injury but hopes to play Sunday against Philadelphia.
"I think guys feel now that if we do have to play with a shortened lineup, they feel comfortable with what they can do and what they can produce," said Conklin, who was strong in net until Buffalo scored three times in the third.
The Penguins swept the season series 4-0 for the first time since the Sabres joined the NHL in 1970, withstanding a five-minute elbowing penalty on Georges Laraque for injuring defenceman Nathan Paetsch early in the second period.
Paetsch passed the puck from along the goal-line in the Buffalo zone moments before Laraque levelled him with a raised elbow. Paetsch lay motionless for several minutes before being assisted to the locker room with a concussion. He is out indefinitely.
Buffalo not only couldn't take advantage of what would have been an extended power play, the Penguins - leading 1-0 - had four good short-handed scoring chances before Jeff Taffe scored nine seconds into Maxim Afinogenov's hooking penalty. Afinogenov's penalty wiped out the final 1:08 of the extended power play and the Penguins went on to score three goals in the period.
"That got the fans into it and I think everyone on the bench really got going after that," forward Ryan Malone said. "We did a great job of killing that (penalty) and controlling that."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Laraque should be suspended.
"It was cheap shot," Ruff said. "How is it that not suspendable, taking an elbow to the chin and (being knocked) out cold? Somebody would have to explain to me why it's not."
Petr Sykora, expected to be out with a back injury, Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang and Taffe also scored for the Penguins, who moved past idle New Jersey and into the Atlantic Division lead. They also tied idle Montreal for first in the Eastern Conference.
Buffalo, beginning to slide out of the playoff race, is 1-4-2 in its last seven and couldn't gain ground on Philadelphia, which leads by four points for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference chase. The Flyers lost to the Maple Leafs.
The Sabres scratched five players with injuries, including defencemen Jaroslav Spacek (ribs) and Dmitri Kalinin (shoulder), and Paetsch's injury further depleted them.
Goalie Ryan Miller - 0-3-1 against Pittsburgh this season - said the injuries are taking a toll on a team that needs to play with more desperation.
"It comes down to grinding and battling, and a lot of young guys are in new roles," Miller said. "I'm not trying to make excuses, but that's what I think it is. ... What we do we have to lose? We're already on the outside looking in. We're already out of the playoffs."
Notes: Penguins GM Ray Shero needed seven stitches to close a gash that occurred during an afternoon pickup game. ... Ryan Stone's assist on Minard's goal midway through the third was his first NHL point. ... Buffalo is 1-5-3 in its last nine games against teams ahead of it in the conference. ... The Penguins were 3-of-6 on the power play after having only one goal with a man advantage in six games. ... Pittsburgh scored six goals three times previously this season. ... Malkin's goal was his 93rd point, four fewer than NHL leader Alex Ovechkin of Washington. ... Minard had a team-leading 17 goals at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL). ... Until the third period, Conklin - who ended last season with Buffalo - had allowed only two goals in four games against the Sabres, including the 2-1 outdoor game win at Buffalo on Jan. 1.