Pens try to extend fast start vs. Sabres

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There now seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for Sidney Crosby's return to game action, but with the Penguins off to their best start in 17 years there appears to be no reason to rush their star captain back.

Still without a regulation loss, Pittsburgh looks to extend its current winning streak over the Buffalo Sabres, who aim to take advantage of Crosby's absence and pick up their first win over the Pens in nearly two years.

Pittsburgh comes into this finale of a three-game homestand with a 3-0-2 record. It won twice and took a shootout loss on its season-opening swing through Western Canada and then won the home opener on Tuesday versus the Panthers.

The Penguins couldn't find a way to finish off the Washington Capitals on Thursday, losing 3-2 in overtime on Dennis Wideman's power-play goal 2:48 into the frame.

James Neal scored twice to give him four goals on the season, while Evgeni Malkin notched a pair of assists after missing the previous two games with soreness in his right knee. Brent Johnson made 16 saves in defeat.

"It's just one of those games where we could have won if we got a bounce here or there," said Johnson. "But there's a lot of hockey left to play in this season."

The defeat came on the same day that Crosby was finally cleared for contact during practice. The All-Star center has been out since Jan. 5 due to lingering symptoms from a concussion and a return date is still unknown, though Friday's increased involvement in practice was certainly a big step forward.

Crosby noted that there wasn't a hole lot of contact during Friday's action and that it is difficult to simulate the bumps and bruises of an actual game.

"It's pretty hard. Even typically when we practice, it's not the same physicality as you'd see in a game," he said. "If you can get close to that and get used to some more bodies out there, that was the first time in a little bit I was a part of the power play and normal movement, that sort of thing. All that stuff takes timing and getting used to. It's good to get that stuff too."

Pittsburgh has notched a point through its first five games for the fourth time in club history and is off to its best start since a 12-0-1 run to begin the 1994-95 season. Even without Crosby, that has to put the Sabres on edge given they have lost six straight to Pittsburgh, which is 13-3 over the past 16 meetings.

Buffalo has also dropped four straight and seven of its past eight at Pittsburgh and is aiming for its first victory in this series since Dec. 29, 2009 at home. The Sabres haven't won in the Steel City since Dec. 8 of the previous year.

They also come in to this meeting looking for their first victory in North America. The Sabres began their season with a pair of victories in Europe -- specifically Finland and Germany -- but dropped a 4-3 game in their Buffalo opener on Friday to Carolina.

Drew Stafford tied the game for the Sabres with 2:41 to go, but Thomas Vanek took a tripping penalty with two minutes left that set up the Hurricanes' game-winner with 1:24 left in the third.

Derek Roy and Vanek also scored and Ryan Miller made 30 saves for the Sabres, who allowed two short-handed goals.

"It seemed like just little things on the power play -- a missed puck here or a bounce there," said Miller, whose club begins a four-game road trip tonight.

Vanek has three goals and six points through his first three games.