By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) — After a disappointing showing in the playoffs, Marc-Andre Fleury’s season debut couldn’t have gone much better.
He would appear to have another favorable matchup against the Buffalo Sabres, who haven’t been able to generate much offense thus far.
The Pittsburgh Penguins try to open 2-0-0 for the third consecutive season Saturday night when they host the winless Sabres.
While Fleury lost his starting job to Tomas Vokoun after compiling a 3.40 goals-against average in last season’s first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders, the All-Star goalie was as sharp as could be in Thursday’s 3-0 win over New Jersey.
“We believe in (Fleury),” reigning Ted Lindsay Award winner Sidney Crosby said after scoring a goal. “I don’t think there’s any doubt in here. He made some great saves. We probably made him work harder than he needed to at the end, but there were some beauties.”
Craig Adams and newcomer Chuck Kobasew also scored while Fleury made 27 saves in earning career win No. 250.
“I’m happy to get in there and get a win,” he told the team’s official website. “It is a long season. We got this first one and now it’s done and I’m looking forward to the next one.”
Fleury should get ample opportunity to build his confidence back up with Vokoun out three to six months due to blood clots in his hips. The Penguins – also without top defenseman Kris Letang – suffered another blow Thursday when James Neal left in the first period with a lingering upper-body injury.
Neal, who scored a team-leading 61 goals over the previous two seasons, is considered week-to-week.
“It’s tough losing Neal,” said superstar linemate Evgeni Malkin, who notched an assist Thursday. “(But) I’m ready. I’m excited to play. The first game I was a little bit nervous. I played all right. I can play better and will play better. I’m just doing what I can to help the team win.”
Fleury and the Penguins now turn their attention to the Sabres (0-2-0), who have been limited to one goal in their first two games. After going 0 for 7 on the power play Wednesday in a 2-1 defeat at Detroit, Buffalo went 0 for 4 in Friday’s 1-0 loss to Ottawa.
Ryan Miller made 45 saves but allowed the game’s only goal with 95 seconds left. The Sabres are on the verge of their worst start since opening 0-5-0 with two ties in 1999-2000.
“It’s not a fun way to lose,” he said. “We need points where we can get them. And I needed to make one more save. It’s disappointing.”
Miller is 5-10-2 with a 3.46 GAA in his last 19 matchups against the Penguins. He had recorded a 4.14 GAA during a 1-6-0 stretch in Pittsburgh before yielding a combined three goals while earning back-to-back wins there in April.
Fleury is 10-3-0 with a 2.39 GAA and one shutout against Buffalo over the previous five seasons.
Crosby has 12 goals and 20 assists in 22 career games against the Sabres, posting 23 points during a current 14-game scoring streak in the series. The Penguins have taken six straight from Buffalo with Crosby on the ice.
The Sabres’ Ville Leino remains out indefinitely with a cracked rib suffered against the Red Wings.
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