PITTSBURGH – Nothing cures a Pittsburgh Penguins slump better than a visit by the Atlanta Thrashers. Worked last season, worked again this season.
Jordan Staal scored twice, Ruslan Fedotenko ended Pittsburgh’s power-play slump, and the Penguins halted a season-worst, five-game losing streak, beating Atlanta 5-2 on Tuesday night for the Thrashers’ ninth consecutive loss.
Jim Slater scored his second and third goals of the season about 13 minutes apart in the second period, but Atlanta still wound up 0-5-2 on its road trip. The Thrashers, who last won on Dec. 17, are 0-6-3 during their longest losing streak since they dropped nine in a row in October 2002.
“We’ve lost nine in a row, and we’ve got to find a way to win. We have to find it right away,” goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. “There’s no time.”
For the Penguins, the Thrashers showed up at exactly the right time. Pittsburgh also stopped a five-game slide a year ago Wednesday by beating the Thrashers 3-1, and the Penguins have won seven straight against Atlanta.
“It’s nice to get on the winning side again,” Staal said. “We kept it simple, didn’t turn the puck over a whole lot and we played in their end a lot more. When you do those things, you’re going to find ways to win games.”
The Penguins were 0-for-13 on the power play over five games until Fedotenko made it 3-1 at 14:41 of the second with his eighth goal. Fedotenko skated down the right wing boards, fed the puck to Staal, then took the giveback pass to beat Pavelec for Pittsburgh’s third goal of the period.
Staal and Kris Letang also scored in the second for the Penguins, who haven’t lost as many as six in a row since going 0-5-2 midway through captain Sidney Crosby’s rookie season in 2006.
“Staal’s line did an outstanding job against their top line (Ilya Kovalchuk’s line) and even got a couple of goals. They were awesome,” Fedotenko said.
Staal put Pittsburgh up 2-1 about eight minutes into the period when he carried the puck into the Thrashers’ zone, lost it briefly, only to have linemate Tyler Kennedy regain control and set him up at the side of the net. Kennedy had two assists after being held to one in his previous 16 games.
Slater had one goal in 20 games before netting both Atlanta goals. He cut the Penguins’ lead to 3-2 when he stole Crosby’s backhand pass from the corner and beat goalie Brent Johnson from the slot at 16:14 of the second, but the Penguins scored the only two goals of the third.
“We’ve got to get through this,” Atlanta’s Chris Thorburn said. “One win could turn into five. We’re streaky like that. Obviously it’s a terrible feeling in the dressing room right now, but one win could turn that around.”
Johnson, making 31 saves during his 11th start, was sharp early as Atlanta took 14 of the first 17 shots yet still couldn’t score in the opening period. Johnson also got an assist on Staal’s second of the night and 13th of the season late in the game.
“We weathered that a bit (in the first period) and got to our game more and more,” Staal said. “By the third period, I felt we were dominating the game.”
Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins’ slumping star, was held without a goal for the sixth consecutive game, but set up Luca Caputi’s first of the season and the second of his career. Malkin skated around two defenders and got off a shot as he slid to the ice. Pavelec made the initial save but Caputi, recalled from the minors earlier in the day to replace the injured Chris Kunitz, skated to the net and scored on a follow-up.
“It was a great individual effort by him,” Caputi said. “I just found it on my stick. It was the easiest possible goal you could score.”
NOTES: Penguins assistant coach Mike Yeo was released from a Florida hospital on Tuesday night and expects to return to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. He became ill with an undisclosed problem following a game at Tampa Bay on Saturday. … Kunitz (abdominal muscle) will undergo surgery Wednesday and is expected to be out four to six weeks. … The Penguins are 17-2 when they score a power-play goal. … The Thrashers are 18-18-6 after starting 14-7-3. … Atlanta hasn’t beaten Pittsburgh since winning 4-1 on Jan. 30, 2008.