PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Sidney Crosby scored his 23rd goal of the season and added two assists as the Pittsburgh Penguins ripped the New York Rangers 5-2 on Friday night for their 11th straight home win.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 33 saves for Pittsburgh and Jussi Jokinen ended a lengthy scoring drought with two goals. Chris Kunitz also scored twice for the Penguins, who won for the 10th time in their last 12 meetings with New York.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma picked up his 231st career victory, leaving him one shy of Eddie Johnson’s franchise record for coaching wins.
Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves for the Rangers. Mats Zuccarello scored a pair of third-period goals for New York, but the Rangers continued to have problems with the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins.
Fleury’s play had a little something to do with it. The Pittsburgh goaltender improved to 29-3 in his last 32 games at Consol Energy Center and is bolstering his bid for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team when it’s announced next week.
Crosby’s place is already assured. And four years after lifting Canada to gold in Vancouver, he remains at the top of his game. He pushed his point total to an NHL best 62 by setting up Kunitz twice and bumping Pittsburgh’s lead to 4-0 late in the second with pretty backhand from in front that Lundqvist fanned at as the puck hit the back of the net.
There’s a good chance Crosby could be joined in Sochi by Kunitz, who has developed a unique chemistry with one of the game’s greatest players. Both of Kunitz’s goals came on assists from Crosby. His 22nd goal of the season put the Penguins in front late in the first period and his 23rd goal with 6:37 remaining blunted a late New York rally.
New York simply couldn’t keep up. Ryan Callahan returned after missing nine games with a knee injury and while the Rangers were able to control play for several lengthy stretches, they never came close to beating Fleury while the outcome was still in doubt.
Their best chance came early, when Brassard broke in alone on Fleury only to have his backhand shot deflect off the inside of Fleury’s pads and out of harm’s way.
Pittsburgh had little trouble capitalizing on the reprieve. Kunitz pushed a puck into an empty net 13:09 into the first and Jokinen scored his first goal since Nov. 30 with a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that Lundqvist barely saw.
After going 34 days between goals, Jokinen barely had to wait 20 minutes for his next one. He took a pass from John Gibbons and flipped a backhand by Lundqvist’s right shoulder while being dragged to the ice to make it 3-0.
It was all the offence Fleury would require as the banged up Penguins remain on cruise control with the Eastern Conference’s top record despite a series of injuries that have forced them to rely heavily on American Hockey League call-ups to fill out the roster.
NOTES: New York forward Derek Dorsett injured his left leg while trying to block a slap shot by Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta in the first period and sat out the final two periods. … Pittsburgh is 19-2 when it scores first. … Pittsburgh’s longest home winning streak is a 12-game run set between Feb. 22-March 30, 2013. … New York plays in Toronto on Saturday. … The Penguins host Winnipeg on Sunday.