February 21, 2016
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) skates away from Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (15) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are a far better team when play-making defenseman Kris Letang keeps his emotions in check.
A day after losing his cool in a 4-2 loss against Tampa Bay, Letang showed patience in overcoming the Sabres' aggressive forecheck by setting up three goals in a 4-3 win at Buffalo on Sunday.
''He's such a good player when he plays the game the right way and when he has control over his emotions,'' coach Mike Sullivan said.
''He's a competitive guy. He really cares. That's why he's emotional. But obviously, he's got to channel it the right way. And I though he did that.''
Letang poked holes in the Sabres defense in helping the Penguins build a 4-1 lead and beat Buffalo for the eighth straight time.
He set up Scott Wilson's go-ahead goal with a pass that found the rookie forward wide open to the right of the net early in the second period. Letang's no-look pass from the right point set up Phil Kessel to make it 3-1.
And before it was over, Letang had a hand in Matt Cullen's short-handed breakaway goal midway through the third period.
Letang bounced back from a loss to Tampa Bay in which he was penalized three times, including an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for playing with Lightning forward Cedric Paquette's stick.
''It was good to respond to that and have a good game, especially after yesterday,'' Letang said.
Patric Hornqvist also scored in a game the Penguins never trailed. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 24 shots in returning after missing a game due to illness.
Pittsburgh improved to 9-3-1 in its past 13, and moved three points ahead of ninth-place New Jersey in the Eastern Conference.
The Sabres had a 3-0-1 streak snapped and received even more bad news following the game. Coach Dan Byslma announced that top-line center Ryan O'Reilly will miss three to four weeks with a lower body injury.
Bylsma didn't reveal the exact nature of the injury after O'Reilly was hurt in a 4-0 win at Columbus on Friday.
''He's you're No. 1 guy, and that's something you can't replace,'' Bylsma said.
O'Reilly was Buffalo's lone All-Star game selection and leads the team with 49 points (17 goals and 32 assists) and the Sabres forwards in averaging nearly 22 minutes of ice time.
Buffalo failed to build off a first period in which it outshot the Penguins 15-6. And the Sabres began to unravel in the second period, during which the Penguins took control by scoring twice and outshooting Buffalo 16-6.
The Penguins haven't lost to the Sabres since a 4-2 defeat on April 23, 2013. And they've won six straight games at Buffalo.
Wilson is providing the Penguins a boost, especially with Evgeni Malkin missing his ninth game with a lower body injury.
After failing to score in his first 13 games, Wilson has a goal in each of his past three, including a game-winner in a 6-3 victory over Detroit on Thursday.
''He seems to have a lot of confidence right now,'' Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of Wilson. ''He got that first one under his belt, so I think being able to build off that, he knows where to be. The puck kind of finds him around the net.''
Wilson was parked at the right post, when Letang fed him a pass through the middle. After settling the puck, Wilson snapped a shot just under goalie Robin Lehner's glove.
Lehner, coming off a 38-save shutout performance, blamed himself for allowing Cullen's goal in the third period. Lehner closed his pads to stop Cullen's shot, but the puck still managed to dribble through.
Gionta responded 13 seconds later to cut the Penguins lead to 4-2.
NOTES: Crosby earned the secondary assist to give him a point in 27 of 30 games against Buffalo, and increase his total to 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists). ... The Penguins recalled goalie Matt Murray from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Murray served as the backup, replacing Jeff Zatkoff, who allowed four goals on 20 shots against Tampa Bay. ... Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said D Ben Lovejoy will undergo further evaluations Monday after sustaining an upper body injury against Tampa Bay.