After finishing 2013 with 10 straight wins at Consol Energy Center, the Pittsburgh Penguins continued their home dominance in their first game of 2014, defeating the New York Rangers 5-2 on Friday night.
Jussi Jokinen and Chris Kunitz scored two goals apiece, while Sidney Crosby increased his lead in the NHL scoring race with a goal and two assists. Kunitz also had an assist for a three-point night, and Brian Gibbons picked up a pair of helpers as Pittsburgh (30-12-1, 61 points) rebounded from Tuesday’s loss in New Jersey despite the continued absence of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.
The Pens led 2-0 after one period and 4-0 after two before the Rangers (20-20-2, 42 points) answered with two goals from Mats Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh in the third to make it interesting. But just as it did for most of the night, Pittsburgh’s No. 1 line of Kunitz, Crosby and James Neal buzzed around the New York zone before Kunitz rapped home his 23rd of the season to ice the game with seven minutes left.
Although he allowed a pair in the final period, Marc-Andre Fleury held his own against a 35-shot Rangers attack. He seldom allowed rebounds while keeping his shutout intact for nearly 48 minutes of game time. New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t quite as sharp, permitting five goals on 28 shots.
The Pens perforated Lundqvist for the first time on an opening-period power play. Crosby deftly kicked the rebound of Matt Niskanen‘s point shot to Kunitz at the lip of the crease, where the crafty winger gathered the puck with his foot before tapping it into the open side at 13:09. Jokinen increased the Pittsburgh lead to 2-0 with 1:20 left in the frame when he one-timed a feed from Gibbons high into the net.
Jokinen scooped Gibbons’ deflected dish past Lundqvist 69 seconds into the second for a three-goal lead; Jokinen now has 11 tallies after going the entire month of December (14 games) without one. Kunitz’ steal set up Crosby’s 23rd on a wicked backhand shot with 1:31 to go before intermission. The score was Crosby’s first against the Rangers since 2010 and temporarily gave him the team goal-scoring lead by himself.
The hardworking Rangers continued to push in the third, and after Zuccarello’s top-corner snapshot sullied Fleury’s clean sheet, the defenseman McDonagh tipped Zuccarello’s wrister into the twine with 8:07 on the clock. About a minute later, the carom from Crosby’s point-blank shot scooted to Kunitz, who had an open net for the insurance marker.
Now 15-3 in their last 18 games, the Pens host Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon before heading to western Canada for a three-game road trip. Faceoff with the Jets is set for 1 p.m.
Notes: Pittsburgh’s 11-game home winning streak is the second-longest in franchise history. The Pens won 12 straight at Consol last season…Crosby’s 62 points (23g, 39a) have him eight ahead of Chicago’s Patrick Kane in the race for the Art Ross Trophy…Malkin (leg) and Letang (arm) have missed the past 10 and nine games, respectively.