PITTSBURGH – The Montreal Canadiens aren’t scheduled for another regular-season game in Pittsburgh’s aging Mellon Arena. As effortlessly as Sidney Crosby scores against them there, the Habs are probably OK with that.
Crosby scored a goal and set up another with an no-look pass as the Penguins matched a franchise record for most victories in their first 25 games, beating the Canadiens 3-1 on Wednesday night.
The Penguins are 17-8 with five victories in six games since losing four in a row and five of six. The only other seasons they won 17 of their first 25 were 1995-96 (17-5-3) and 1994-95 (17-6-2), when there were tie games.
Crosby, held scoreless in five consecutive games for the first time in his career earlier this season, again tormented the Canadiens – the team he followed as a youngster after Montreal drafted his father, Todd, in 1984.
Crosby has four goals and an assist as the Penguins have outscored Montreal 9-2 in two games in Pittsburgh, including a 6-1 victory on Oct. 28 in which Crosby had his only three-goal game this season. Crosby has three goals and six assists in seven games since the scoreless streak ended.
“They moved the puck a lot, possessed the puck a lot, especially those guys (Evgeni) Malkin and Crosby,” Montreal forward Sergei Kostitsyn said.
Wednesday’s loss was the Canadiens’ last scheduled game in the 48-year-old arena that was known as the Civic Arena when they first played there in 1967. The Canadiens finished with 45 wins, 33 losses and 14 ties. The Penguins will move into a new arena next season.
Montreal was coming off a 5-3 victory over Columbus on Tuesday and was 3-0-1 on its previous four, but fell behind 3-0 by late in the second period as Bill Guerin and Sergei Gonchar also scored.
“Offensively, they’re as talented as any group in the league,” Montreal defenceman Paul Mara said. “And we were playing defence pretty much all night.”
That was by design. The Penguins, playing the first of three games in four days, intended to play a low-risk, keep-away game to wear down the injury-thinned Canadiens.
“When we’re not stubborn, playing our game and getting the puck in and we’re not trying to dazzle everybody … it’s effective for us,” Guerin said.
Crosby scored near the midpoint of the first period with a wrist shot from the left circle that sailed past goalie Carey Price, who was screened by Mara. Crosby missed getting his second goal when he shot wide during a 2-on-1 break 29 seconds later.
Crosby’s flurry shifted the momentum Pittsburgh’s way, and Guerin made it 2-0 with 6:41 gone in the second.
Later in the second, Gonchar scored his first in four games since missing 12 games with a broken left wrist, a backhander from the slot created by Crosby’s spinorama pass from the left circle. The assist was Crosby’s 278th of his career, moving him past Ron Stackhouse and into 10th place in franchise history.
“I saw Gonch coming late and I didn’t really have an angle to pass it on the forehand, so I just tried to spin there and give myself a better angle,” Crosby said. “It wasn’t a great pass, it was in his feet, but he kicked it up to his stick and made a great move.”
Marc-Andre Fleury missed getting his first shutout of the season and 16th of his career when Max Pacioretty scored at 7:17 of the third. The best of his 18 saves was a glove-hand stop on Ryan O’Byrne’s short-handed attempt about three minutes after Pacioretty scored.
NOTES: The Penguins have won their last four against Montreal. … Crosby and Malkin each have points in six of seven games. … Crosby has 11 goals and 12 assists in 16 career games against Montreal; Malkin has seven goals and 13 assists in 14 games. … Price was 4-1-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average in his previous six games. He made 27 saves.