Crosby-less Penguins rally for 5-3 win over Winnipeg
PITTSBURGH (AP) — For a team seemingly so reliant on megastars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins sure do seem to handle their business when forced to play without them.
David Perron and Brandon Sutter scored power-play goals less than 4 minutes apart in the third period and the Penguins rallied for a 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night. Pittsburgh snapped a four-game losing streak and somehow improved to 9-0-1 in their last 10 games with both Malkin and Crosby — who have a combined three MVPs between them — out of the lineup.
“Even though they weren’t playing you want to make sure to prove to everyone that you can still play,” Perron said. “We found a way to win without them.”
Kris Letang had a career-high five assists in his return to the lineup after missing a week with concussion-like symptoms. Nick Spaling, Steve Downie and Patric Hornqvist also scored for Pittsburgh. Thomas Greiss stopped 19 shots as Pittsburgh beat the Jets for the 14th straight time at home.
This one, however, came with a slightly different look. Rather than the sometimes dazzling play of Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins rode the streaking Perron — who has six goals in nine games since arriving in a trade from Edmonton on Jan. 2 — and a gritty performance from a patchwork lineup.
Perron tied the game at 3 at 4:23 of the third period by jabbing the puck in between the legs of Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and Sutter put the Penguins in front 7:52 into the third when his centering pass from behind the goal line somehow deflected off Pavelec and into the net. All five Pittsburgh scores came with players in close proximity to the goal mouth.
“We got to that area better than we have,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “It’s been an emphasis for us. We’ve got to get to the paint. We’ve got to get to the blue area.”
Adam Lowry, Jacob Trouba and Chris Thorburn scored for the Jets, who saw their five-game winning streak snapped when they couldn’t protect a third-period lead. Pavelec made 25 saves but was sloppy in the third period.
Lowry gave Winnipeg the lead 59 seconds into the third before Perron and Sutter delivered on Pittsburgh’s pieced together power play.
“We were able to get a couple leads throughout the course of the game, we just weren’t able to hold them,” Thorburn said. “So, it’s unfortunate.”
The Penguins limped into the All-Star break with their longest losing streak of the season and were forced to start the second half without their franchise cornerstones. Crosby received an injection last Thursday to treat a lower-body injury suffered against Montreal earlier this month and missed the All-Star Game. While Crosby could return on Wednesday in Washington, Malkin is not skating at the moment and could miss a week or more.
For a night anyway, Pittsburgh survived without them.
Having the blossoming Perron in place certainly helped. Buried on the third line in Edmonton, Perron has become the kind of scoring threat Pittsburgh needed to take some of the pressure off Crosby.
“Playing with Sid the last little while brought me the confidence,” said Perron, who had just five goals in 38 games with Edmonton before the trade. “Just trying to carry the wave.”
Spaling gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead 7:09 into the game following a pretty sequence in which Letang hit Perron with a long stretch pass. Perron drew two defenders and Pavelec as he streaked down the right side. Perron’s centering pass landed right on Spaling’s blade and he flipped it into a wide-open net.
Letang’s assist was the 200th of his career. He added four more a week after taking a jarring hit from Philadelphia’s Zac Rinaldo that left the former Norris Trophy-finalist with concussion-like symptoms. He missed a shootout loss to Chicago last week but responded with sublime play on a night the Penguins needed it.
“I liked every decision he made,” Johnston said. “He made it with speed and he made it quick. He didn’t hang on to it.”
NOTES: The Penguins traded forward Marcel Goc to St. Louis for center Maxim Lapierre after the game. ... Crosby did not play on the same night the team gave away a bobblehead in his honor. ... Penguins D Rob Scuderi played in his 400th game with the team. ... The Jets play at Philadelphia on Thursday. ... Winnipeg fell to 13-5-4 against the Eastern Conference. ... The Jets did not have a power play. Pittsburgh went 2 for 3 with the man advantage.