Another game, another win for the injury-depleted Pittsburgh Penguins.
League-leading scorer Sidney Crosby netted a goal and assisted on two others as the Penguins squelched the Calgary Flames for their seventh straight win, 4-3 on Saturday afternoon at Consol Energy Center.
Pittsburgh (27-10-1, 55 points) never trailed, although Jiri Hudler‘s goal 1:03 into the third period drew Calgary within one and created some drama. The Flames (13-17-6, 29 points) are one of the worst teams in the NHL, but they won the shot-on-goal and shot-attempt battles against the puck possession-oriented Pens.
But the Penguins, who have won 12 of their past 13 to move seven points ahead of Boston for first in the Eastern Conference, had the finishing touch in a rare afternoon game. James Neal picked up a goal and an assist, while Chris Kunitz earned helpers on goal from linemates Pascal Dupuis and Crosby.
Harry Zolnierczyk, one of several AHL call-ups seeing regular time lately, netted his first goal as a Penguin and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves. Pittsburgh will wrap up a stretch of seven games in 11 days Monday at Ottawa.
As has been their wont at home, the Pens jumped to an early lead, although it wasn’t in the opening minute for a change. Dupuis capped a shift of dogged work by the top line with a rebound goal 10:26 into the game, then Zolnierczyk tipped Robert Bortuzzo‘s point shot past Flames goalie Karri Ramo 79 seconds later.
Seven minutes into the second frame, Calgary’s Paul Byron cut the Pittsburgh lead in half when his long shot drifted through traffic and under Fleury. But Crosby buried his 20th goal of the year, tying him with Kunitz for the team lead, during a 4-on-4 situation with 5:16 left in the period.
Kunitz sent Crosby away with a lead pass, and No. 87 hammered a slap shot to the top-right corner for a breathtaking goal, making it 3-1 Pittsburgh:
Neal raised the lead to three moments later with a deflection of Matt Niskanen‘s wrister, giving the winger 11 tallies on the season; it was Neal’s second game back from a five-game suspension.
Calgary sniper Mike Cammalleri answered with his 11th goal while bursting down the left wing in the period’s final minute. Matt Stajan set up Hudler’s accurate one-timer early in the third, but the Flames couldn’t muster an equalizer.