Kovalev scores twice to lead Pens over Sabres


BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- To Alexei Kovalev and the Pittsburgh Penguins, it didn't matter that Mario Lemieux and Martin Straka didn't play.

Kovalev scored twice and added an assist, leading the Pittsburgh
Penguins into first place with a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo
Sabres on Friday night.

Pittsburgh played without owner-captain Lemieux, the league
scoring leader; he was sidelined with the flu. Straka sat out with
a hamstring injury incurred Wednesday against Philadelphia.

"Last season we played quite a bit without Mario,'' said
Kovalev. "There's some sense of responsibility, but we have a lot
of balance. We knew we had to come up with a big effort.''

Jan Hrdina and Ville Nieminen also scored for Pittsburgh, winner
of four straight. Johan Hedberg made 43 saves as the Penguins moved
atop the Atlantic Division after the Philadelphia Flyers lost 3-0
to Toronto earlier Friday.

Stu Barnes scored for Buffalo, which has been limited to one
goal in four of its last six games.

"We knew they were going to jump out hard,'' said Hedberg. "I
felt like I was in the right spots, and played a patient game.''

Hedberg improved to 5-1-1 against Buffalo. Sabres goalie Martin
Biron, meanwhile, fell to 1-9-1 against Pittsburgh.

"We had 40-plus shots and could have had 60,'' said Sabres
coach Lindy Ruff. "If our key players don't finish with the
opportunities they have, then we have no chance of winning.''

The Penguins took a 2-0 lead on a pair of power-play goals 27
seconds apart in the second period.

Kovalev snapped a scoreless tie, firing a slap shot from the
right point past Biron. Hrdina, in the slot, tipped home Kovalev's
shot taken from the center of the blue line.

The goals extended Pittsburgh's streak to seven games with at
least one power-play goal. The unit is three games shy of its
season-long 10-game streak, achieved between Games 2-11.

"It gave us some room to work with,'' said Hedberg.

Kovalev added his second of the night in the third period. He
fired a slap shot from the left faceoff circle over Biron's left

Barnes spoiled Hedberg's shutout with 10:31 remaining. He
scooped up a loose puck in the slot and scored on a wrist shot.

"I don't know if the 27 seconds is what cost us the game. The
fact that we had as many chances as we did and didn't put them in
the net was the big thing,'' Barnes said.

Nieminen scored a short-handed empty-net goal with 15.8 seconds

The Penguins were held without a shot until 8:59 remained in the
first period. Buffalo held Pittsburgh to four shots in the opening

Game notes
The Penguins have scored first in 16 of their 22 games.
They have also won all seven games in which they held a 2-0 lead,
which has been the case in each of their last three games. ...
Pittsburgh defenseman Andrew Ference played in his first game of
the season, coming back from a hernia operation that sidelined him
for the first 21 games. ... Penguins center Michal Sivek, who led
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in scoring when recalled from the AHL on
Thursday, made his NHL debut and played 6:49. ... Buffalo scratches
included Rob Ray and defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Alexei
Zhitnik. Tallinder is day-to-day with a shoulder injury, while
Zhitnik will be out about 10 more days with a broken foot.