PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins are showing they’re not just a top-heavy, star-laden team. The defending Stanley Cup champions have depth, too.
Evgeni Malkin had a goal, Sidney Crosby added an assist, and 13 of Pittsburgh’s 18 skaters got onto the scoresheet in a 5-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night.
Matt Cooke had a goal and an assist, Kris Letang had two assists, and Tyler Kennedy, Evgeni Malkin, Ruslan Fedotenko and Alex Goligoski had goals as the Penguins won their sixth straight and pushed their record to an NHL-best 8-1.
“When our four lines are going and everybody’s clicking and playing well together, we can be a tough team to beat,” defenceman Jay McKee said. “I think most teams, probably for good reasons, focus on Sidney and Geno (Malkin), and I think that’s playing to our advantage. We’re not just getting production from them; it’s everybody.”
Paul Kariya scored for the Blues, 1-3-1 in their past five games. They were dominated three days after a 5-0 win at Anaheim.
“For us not to be ready to play the defending Stanley Cup champions is unacceptable,” Blues goalie Chris Mason said. “We come off a good second and third period in Anaheim against a very good team. I don’t know if we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves and getting a little cocky and thinking that it should be easier than it really is. … To come out like we did against these guys, this is what’s going to happen.”
The Penguins took a season-high 43 shots and controlled play for much of the game against the Blues, but it might have come at a price. Veteran all-star defenceman Sergei Gonchar didn’t play over the final 27 minutes because of an undisclosed injury. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Gonchar would be evaluated Wednesday.
The Penguins struggled last season and were in 10th place in the Eastern Conference after Gonchar missed the first 56 games due to a shoulder injury.
“We’ll see what happens with Gonch,” Bylsma said. “If we miss him, I think we’re still going to be able to play a similar style.”
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 22 saves to improve to 8-0, setting a career high for most consecutive victories.
He didn’t have much to do during the first period, when the Penguins held a 20-3 shots advantage and took a 2-0 lead.
“Right from the get-go, when you don’t have the energy or the legs, it means you’re reaching with your sticks so you’re doing things you shouldn’t be doing,” Blues coach Andy Murray said. “Obviously with the shots – total domination by Pittsburgh – it was pretty clear to see such a drop-off and it is difficult to understand why we didn’t have legs or energy.”
The Penguins took the first 10 shots in the opening 10:39 and grabbed a lead they would not relinquish at 11:19. Kennedy skated in from the left-wing boards and took a slap shot from high in the left circle that beat Mason. It was Kennedy’s team-high fifth goal.
“You give up 20 shots in the first period and 45 in the game with a team that has as much talent, skill and drive that the Penguins have, it’s going to be tough road to hoe,” St. Louis forward David Backes said.
Only 69 seconds later, Malkin scored during a power play on his fourth shot attempt of the sequence. His last attempt came from the slot as Bill Guerin screened Mason.
Playing in his 300th consecutive game (including playoffs), Malkin tied his career high with 12 shots. The goal was his fourth of the season.
The Penguins scored two more goals in quick succession starting 7:29 into the second period. Fedotenko made it 3-0 with a power-play tally.
Cooke scored 36 seconds later, deflecting in a shot from Letang.
“To be able to come out and play the way that we did no matter who we’re playing against is a good feeling,” Cooke said.
Kariya broke up Fleury’s shutout bid with 7:16 left in the second when he deflected Erik Johnson’s wrist shot from the left point after a scrum in front. It was his team-high fourth goal.
“Unfortunately it took four (goals against) before we started playing real hockey,” Backes said.
Goligoski made it 5-1 at 9:44 of the third when he took a feed from Crosby and scored his second of the season.
During their quick start to the season, Malkin and Crosby have combined for eight of the team’s 33 goals and 11 of their 53 assists.
“It’s a good feeling how well this team’s playing right now,” Fleury said. “I’m sure (a loss) will come, but hopefully we can keep it going.”
NOTES: Crosby’s point was his 405th with the Penguins, moving him into sole possession of 10th place on the club’s career list at age 22. … Goligoski has five points and is a plus-9 in his past six games. … St. Louis allowed season highs in shots for a game and period, and tied a season low for shots in a game (23).