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DeSmith stops 24 in Penguins' 3-0 win over skidding Sabres

Buffalo Sabres forward Tage Thompson (72) and Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith (1) collide during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 13, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

By JOHN WAWROW AP Hockey Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — With goals at a premium Saturday night, the prolific Pittsburgh Penguins proved they can win with a low-scoring, tight-checking approach.

Casey DeSmith stopped 24 shots, and the Penguins handed Buffalo its 10th straight loss with a 3-0 victory over the lowly Sabres.

Jake Guentzel scored the go-ahead goal by batting in his own rebound with 3:23 remaining in the second period. Sidney Crosby, deep from his own end, and Mark Jankowski added empty-netters in the final minute.

“That’s what we’ve got to be. We’ve got to be able to play this kind of game,” said Guentzel, who scored his team-leading 10th goal. “It’s good to find different ways to win. It’s nice to know we can be low-scoring and defend hard.”

The Penguins had scored four or more goals in five of their previous six games.

It was DeSmith’s second shutout against Buffalo and No. 5 for his career. He made 26 stops for the Penguins in a 5-0 win over the Sabres on March 14, 2019.

Pittsburgh completed a two-game sweep of Buffalo following a 5-2 win on Thursday night. The Penguins have won five in a row overall, matching the team’s longest win streak since Oct. 10-18, 2019.

The Sabres dropped to 0-8-2 in their past 10. The winless streak matches the fourth-worst in team history, and the longest since Buffalo dropped a franchise-worst 14 straight midway through the 2014-15 season.

“It’s hard to describe right now, truthfully. I don’t know what’s going on,” said Carter Hutton, who made 31 saves. “We’re in this as a team, right? It’s frustrating. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in this kind of funk at this level. It’s hard to take.”

Buffalo was shut out for the fifth time this season. It has scored two or fewer goals in seven of its past eight.

The Sabres were without captain Jack Eichel, who missed his third straight game and is out for what coach Ralph Krueger called the “foreseeable future” with an upper-body injury.

Buffalo also was minus rookie center Dylan Cozens, who had been elevated to the top line in place of Eichel. Cozens is day to day with an upper-body injury after being checked awkwardly into the boards Thursday.

Guentzel scored 16 seconds after Buffalo’s Colin Miller was sent off for hooking. The Penguins worked the puck to Malkin in the right circle, where he fed Guentzel alone in front.

Malkin has three goals and seven assists in a seven-game point streak.

Pittsburgh then clamped down on defense by limiting Buffalo to just six shots in the third period.

Bryan Rust made a key defensive play by rushing back to prevent Buffalo’s Tobias Rieder from getting off a shot on a short-handed breakaway with 8:20 left.

DeSmith was grateful for Rust’s hustle.

“He’s one of the fastest guys in the league, and he showed it on that play,” DeSmith said. “That was huge for us.”

The Sabres stuck to a tight-checking, patient approach, while attempting to generate chances off transition in keeping the game scoreless.

It was much sharper defensive outing for Buffalo after the Penguins scored three of their four goals — not including an empty-netter — off odd-man rushes on Thursday.

Hutton, meanwhile, was sharp on the few chances the Penguins enjoyed Saturday. His best stop came 8 1/2 minutes into the second period when he closed his pads in time to stop Guentzel’s snap shot from the left circle.

Generating offense, however, continues to be an issue for Buffalo, which entered the game ranked 30th in the NHL in averaging 2.24 goals a game and last in having scored 34 times in 5-on-5 situations.

STREAKS

The Penguins improved to 18-2-3 in their past 23 games against the Sabres. They are 12-0-2 in their past 14 visits to Buffalo since a 6-2 loss on Feb. 18, 2012.

The Sabres extended their home winless streak to 0-7-1, their longest skid since going 0-5-3 from Jan. 9 to Feb. 5, 2014.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Penguins’ penalty-killing unit went 2 for 2 and did not allow a power-play goal in two straight games for just the second time this season. The Sabres’ power-play unit is 0 for 15 in its past nine games.

SCRATCHES

Penguins: D John Marino was a game-time decision before missing his second consecutive outing with an upper-body injury.

Sabres: D Brandon Davidson played after being activated off the taxi squad, and replaced Matt Irwin, who was a healthy scratch. D Henri Jokiharju was loaned to the taxi squad.

UP NEXT

Penguins: Open two-game home series against the Boston Bruins on Monday night.

Sabres: Host the Washington Capitals on Monday night.

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