CALGARY – The Pittsburgh Penguins are demonstrating their depth to start the NHL season.
Without captain Sidney Crosby in the lineup, the Penguins erupted for four goals in the second period to beat the Calgary Flames 5-3 on Saturday night.
Defenceman Matt Niskanen had a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh, which has a talented, nimble lineup even without Crosby.
Led by centres Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal and defenceman Kris Letang, Pittsburgh has been touted as a pre-season favourite to win the Stanley Cup again in 2012.
“We have a lot of guys who can play the game at a high level,” Niskanen said. “We’re building this thing up. We’ll keep improving our game in different aspects.
“We’ll certainly welcome Sidney when he’s ready to come back, with open arms. Sidney will be that big of a bonus when he comes back.”
Staal scored an empty-net goal and Malkin, Craig Adams and Tyler Kennedy also had goals for the Penguins, who improved to 2-0 on their season-opening Western Canadian tour.
Pittsburgh’s opener was a 4-3 shootout victory in Vancouver on Thursday. The 2009 Stanley Cup champions conclude their three-game road trip Sunday in Edmonton.
Curtis Glencross, Rene Bourque and Olli Jokinen replied for the Flames in Calgary’s first game of the 2011-12 season.
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 17 saves for the win, while Calgary counterpart Miikka Kiprusoff, who needs one win to become the franchise leader at 263, stopped 32 shots.
Crosby is skating with the team on their current road trip but not yet cleared for contact. He played 41 games last season before suffering concussions in January that ended his season. Crosby scored a hat trick in Pittsburgh’s 4-1 win over Calgary in their previous meeting Nov. 27, 2010.
The Penguins push the puck quickly through the neutral zone. They excelled Saturday at getting behind Calgary’s defenders and scoring from close range in their second-period burst.
“We have a pretty dangerous club when we do those things,” Staal said.
Calgary led 1-0 after the first period, but it was all Pittsburgh in the second period as the visitors outshot Calgary 16-5. After Malkin made it 4-1, tempers flared.
The Penguins took exception to a check on Matt Cooke by Flames defenceman Cory Sarich and that prompted a line rumble near Calgary’s net. Malkin later threw a couple punches at Glencross and both were sent to the penalty box for roughing and slashing respectively.
Calgary scored twice in the third period to draw within a goal. With Kiprusoff pulled for an extra attacker, Staal put the puck in the empty net.
“A lot of lines played well at certain times in the game,” Staal said. “I still think we could have obviously played a better full game than we did. The third period wasn’t our best, but we held them off for the two points.”
Calgary had nine days between their final pre-season game and their first of the regular season. They didn’t have their opening night lineup intact for any pre-season games because of injuries, however.
Captain Jarome Iginla didn’t play a game until Saturday because of back spasms he experienced the first day of training camp.
“The second period is definitely what cost us tonight,” Iginla lamented. “We got sloppy, we had way too many turnovers, we didn’t play good hockey.
“They’re a quick team and we can’t turn the puck over like that. We played the whole period in our zone because of it. In the first and third, we were solid, but we can’t give any team a period like we gave them.”
Jokinen scored Calgary’s third goal at 16:23 of the third period. Fleury bobbled the puck behind his own net and Niklas Hagman backhanded the puck out front to the Finn who beat Fleury stick side at 16:23. Calgary’s Bourque halved the deficit in the third, deflecting an Alex Tanguay shot by the Pittsburgh goalie at 9:08.
Malkin tucked a rebound by Kiprusoff at 13:01 of the second period for a power-play goal. It was the big Russian’s first of the season although he scored during the shootout in Vancouver. Calgary native Adams made it 3-1 at 10:11, tapping the puck past Kiprusoff from the slot.
Niskanen gave the visitors a 2-1 lead at 6:40 when Calgary was serving a penalty for too many men. Niskanen batted in a rebound off of Kiprusoff’s outstretched pad for the defenceman’s second goal as a Penguin since he was acquired from Dallas last season.
Pittsburgh caught Calgary’s power-play napping when Pascal Dupuis head-manned the puck to Kennedy stepping out of the penalty box. With the Penguins rushing Calgary’s zone, Kennedy opted to keep the puck and put a wrist shot between Kiprusoff’s pads at 1:04.
Calgary moved the puck quickly in Pittsburgh’s zone in the opening minutes to create scoring chances, but didn’t get their first goal of the season until 15:32 to take a 1-0 lead into the second period. Flames defenceman and new assistant captain Mark Giordano drove the net and dished cross-ice to Glencross, whose shot from the face-off circle deflected off Fleury and into the net.
It was the first time Flames faced Pittsburgh in their season-opener. These two clubs meet just once a season in the NHL schedule and alternate each year between cities. Calgary embarks on a three-game road trip starting Monday in St. Louis followed by stops in Montreal and Toronto.
Pittsburgh plays their first three games away from home for just the second time in their history. The only other instance was the lockout-shortened season of 1994-95, when they defeated Tampa Bay, Florida and New York in January.
Notes: Centre Roman Horak, 20, had an assist for Calgary in his NHL debut . . . Staal collected his 200th career point assisting on Niskanen’s goal . . . Calgary forward Niklas Hagman played his 700th career game Saturday . . . Pittsburgh defenceman Brooks Orpik was scratched with a lower-body injury.