PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Evgeni Malkin spent two periods making the Pittsburgh Penguins forget all about Sidney Crosby.
He couldn’t make it three.
Pavel Datsyuk had a goal and an assist, Jimmy Howard stopped 25 shots and the Detroit Red Wings roared to a 4-1 victory over the injury-depleted Penguins on Tuesday despite a brilliant effort from Malkin.
The dazzling Russian scored his 11th goal of the season and hit the post twice in more than 23 minutes of mostly brilliant play, but ran out of steam as the Red Wings pulled away in the third period.
“Every single time he touched the puck it seemed like something was happening,” Howard said. “He’s a great player, there’s no way around it; he makes things happen when he’s out there.”
The Red Wings countered with balanced play led by Datsyuk, who steadied Detroit with a second-period goal to even things up before the Red Wings scored three times in the third.
“It was a great momentum boost for us,” Howard said of Datsyuk’s ninth goal of the season. “They were sort of carrying the play there in the second period and it’s just a great shot by Pavel.”
One that gave the Red Wings the boost they needed to win in Pittsburgh for the first time in three seasons.
“Detroit is a good team, they played quick,” Malkin said. “We had a couple of mistakes. In the last 10 minutes, we played bad and we didn’t have a chance to win.”
Crosby missed his third straight game and 23rd overall with concussion-like symptoms. Pittsburgh defencemen Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek and Robert Bortuzzo are also out while dealing with similar issues.
The Red Wings publicly lamented the chance to play Pittsburgh at full strength in the renewal of a heated rivalry that saw the teams split a pair of thrilling Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009.
They weren’t complaining, however, after spending much of the night trying to keep Malkin in check. He gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead with a breathless end-to-end rush to just before the end of the first period and nearly made it 2-0 early in the second when his shot clanged off the post and momentarily stopped on the goal line before being swept out of danger.
The Red Wings took advantage of the reprieve, with Datsyuk evening the game at 1 in the second period before Detroit poured it on the third, scoring three times in the game’s final 15 minutes.
Johan Franzen scored his team-leading 14th goal to give Detroit the lead before Danny Cleary added a pair of late insurance scores as the Red Wings handed the Penguins their first regulation loss to a Western Conference team this season.
“It was a good road game for us,” Cleary said. “I thought we played OK in the first, not great in the second, good in the third.”
Pittsburgh fell to 1-2-0 in the three games since Crosby was sidelined with a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms. The two losses have come to the league’s elite. Philadelphia handled the Penguins for long stretches in a 3-2 win last Thursday, and the Red Wings played lights out in the third.
“There were lots of loose pucks right around the cage,” Pittsburgh’s Matt Niskanen said. “We just weren’t able to capitalize. I thought our guys went to the net hard, but they managed to keep them out of the net.”
Howard was stellar when he needed to be in winning his league-leading 18th game. Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 21 shots while failing to win the 200th game of his career.
Pittsburgh fell to 12-8-3 when Crosby doesn’t play, a routine that’s become all too common over the past year. He missed 10 months after taking a shot to the head in consecutive games last January before returning on Nov. 21.
He scored twice and added 10 assists in eight games, but hasn’t played since a 3-1 loss to Boston last week and said Monday he’s out indefinitely.
The Penguins clearly need him against the league’s better teams. The Flyers dictated play last week and Pittsburgh couldn’t respond after the Red Wings got going in the third period.
“For the first 10 minutes in the second period I felt they competed harder than we did and won more battles and, to me, were taking the game a little bit,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “Then I thought we really dug in at that point and played well for the last 30 minutes.”
NOTES: In addition to Crosby, Bartuzzo and Steve MacIntyre were also scratched by the Penguins. … Mike Commodore and Cory Emmerton were scratched by the Red Wings. … The Penguins travel to Ottawa on Friday while Detroit plays in Nashville on Thursday.