Sidney Crosby felt more comfortable in the second game of his comeback as the Pittsburgh Penguins sent the New Jersey Devils reeling.
Matt Cooke scored two goals, Evgeni Malkin added his 40th of the season and Crosby had three assists to lead the Penguins to their 11th straight win, 5-2 over the Devils on Saturday.
With the surge, the Penguins have 93 points — two behind the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers. Their winning streak is the longest in the NHL this season
Crosby came through with a strong effort in the second game of his comeback from recurring concussion-like symptoms.
“Having played one game, so much of it is reacting,” Crosby said. “When you first come back, you are probably thinking a lot more than you should. The more you react and let the game come to you, the better.”
Crosby has five assists since returning, and had a couple of good chances against the Devils to score the first goal of the comeback with six shots on goal.
Chris Kunitz, James Neal and Pascal Dupuis also scored for Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury made 12 saves for his 10th straight victory and 39th of the season.
It has been a smooth transition with Crosby stepping back into the lineup.
“We’re a team and you’re happy to see your team mates do well,” Crosby said. “We’ve played good hockey. When I wasn’t in for the previous nine games I was just as happy to see guys do well. There is a good feeling when you are rewarded for your efforts and guys have stuck to that.”
A good team becomes a very dangerous squad with Crosby back.
“It’s a powerful feeling,” said Cooke who has four goals in the last two games. “It’s invigorating to see the depth of our team and our organization. Some guys who played well for us all year now have to sit out. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the strength of our group.”
The Penguins ended a three-game losing streak to the Devils, winning for the first time in their last five visits to New Jersey.
“I feel they got fortunate a couple of games in here,” Cooke said. “We’d have pressure on them early and not get a goal. They’d get a turnover and go down and score. It wasn’t that different today. We were all over them, and then they got a goal.”
This time Pittsburgh never let up.
Andy Greene and Petr Sykora scored for the Devils, winners of five of six coming in. The Devils wore their retro jerseys, going back to their original New Jersey colours of red, white and green.
The throwback shirts didn’t help as the Penguins attacked early and often, jumping out to a 14-2 shot advantage.
“We played a real fast game today,” Crosby said. “Everyone was creating chances. Everyone was on their toes, making plays.”
The pressure paid off early.
Kunitz was awarded a penalty shot at 1:55 after being pulled down on a breakaway by Marek Zidlicky. Martin Brodeur, going into a low crouch, made a pad stop while losing his stick.
Brodeur was helpless five seconds later as Neal scored after Malkin won a faceoff from Adam Henrique. The puck went right to Neal at the top of the left circle where he drilled a shot for his 32nd goal.
“I just stood my ground on the penalty shot, similar to a shootout,” Brodeur said. “He tried to go around me but he couldn’t lift the puck. Then on the goal, they won the faceoff clean and he picked a corner through a maze of guys. That was definitely deflating.”
Penalty killing has been a recent strength for the Devils, who had not allowed an opposition power-play goal in 10 straight games. Then another successful kill helped temporarily stem the Penguins tide.
Four seconds after a penalty for too many men on the ice penalty expired, Greene scored for New Jersey at 16:57 with a wrist shot from the left circle that was confirmed by a video review. It was the Devils first regulation goal in three games, including a 1-0 shootout victory over Colorado on Thursday night.
It was also Greene’s first goal of the season.
The Penguins broke it open with three goals in the second period.
Dupuis gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead at 10:10 of the second, picking the long side to beat Brodeur from the left circle after taking a drop pass from Jordan Staal. The assist extended Stall’s point-scoring streak to 10 games while the goal was the 20th for Dupuis, equaling his career high.
Cooke, on a beautiful backhand pass from Crosby, put Pittsburgh up by two at 11:44 on a shot that glanced off his skate.
Malkin closed out the scoring in the period as Crosby again worked his magic, digging the puck off the left boards before feeding a perfect pass to Malkin for a one-timer from the right circle. The power-play tally at 12:42 ended the Devils string of 29 consecutive penalty kills.
Crosby flew up the ice late in the second period only to be denied the first goal of his comeback by Brodeur’s stellar glove save.
The Penguins outshot the Devils 12-4 in the middle period.
In the third, Sykora scored for New Jersey at 2:26 only to have Cooke restore Pittsburgh’s three goal lead at 5:56 with Crosby getting the second assist.
Pittsburgh outshot New Jersey 43-14 for the game.
“Out of the 60 minutes, maybe we played good for 18 minutes,” said Devils forward Patrik Elias. “That’s not good enough against a team like that. All you have to do is look at the shots.”
Notes: The Devils switched to their current red, white and black shirts for the 1992-93 season. … This was the third straight year the Devils wore vintage shirts on, or close, to St. Patrick’s Day. They went 1-1 in the previous games. … Brodeur started the game wearing a red retro mask but soon switched back to his usual black mask. … Greene’s previous goal was March 30 of last season.