Crosby racks up 4 assists, Penguins rip Jets 8-4
PITTSBURGH—James Neal recorded his second NHL hat trick and Sidney Crosby had four assists in his first home game in more than three months as the Pittsburgh Penguins ripped the Winnipeg Jets 8-4 on Tuesday night.
Evgeni Malkin added two goals-- including the 200th of his NHL career -- and dished out three assists to lift his point total to an NHL-leading 93.
Pittsburgh bounced back from an overtime loss in Philadelphia, that ended an 11-game winning streak, and pulled within a point of the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.
Tyler Kennedy scored twice for Pittsburgh, which dealt the Jets a blow in their pursuit of a playoff spot. Winnipeg trails eighth-place Washington by four points with nine games remaining.
Bryan Little scored twice for the Jets. Ondrej Pavelec was pulled in the second after allowing five Penguins goals on 24 shots.
Pavelec played well, but he got little help from his defense. The Jets allowed Crosby, Malkin and Neal to go wherever they wanted during a wide-open game that showcased how dynamic the Penguins can be at full strength.
Though Crosby's goal-less streak extended to a career-worst 11 games, he hasn't lost his touch. He has nine assists in four games since returning from a 40-game layoff due to concussion-like symptoms.
The Pittsburgh captain needed two minutes to score his first point at home since he had three assists against Ottawa on Nov. 25. He fed the puck to Tyler Kennedy in the slot for Kennedy's seventh goal of the season that made it 1-0.
Winnipeg took a brief lead in the first, sneaking a pair of shots past Pittsburgh backup goalie Brad Thiessen, but it hardly mattered.
Neal scored his first of the night on the power play, a unit that features two of the league's best players. Crosby whipped a behind-the-back pass to Malkin at the side of the net, and the Russian flicked a pass to Neal for a one-timed shot that tied it at 2 late in the first.
Neal scored during a scrum in front of the net 1:15 in the second. Winnipeg quickly tied it at 3 before Kennedy -- who hadn't scored since Jan. 13 -- netted his second of the night early in the second. Crosby again did most of the work, beating two Jets to the puck behind the Winnipeg net and then finding Kennedy on the doorstep.
The Penguins kept coming.
Malkin's 200th goal came with Thiessen pulled during a delayed penalty. With his parents watching from the stands, Malkin stood in his favorite spot in the right circle and whipped the puck past Pavelec to make it 5-3.
Winnipeg coach Claude Noel had seen enough, lifting Pavelec in favor of Chris Mason.
Tim Stapleton got Winnipeg within one, but Neal responded with a snap shot for his third goal of the night. Neal had his previous hat trick against Toronto on Dec. 28, 2008, while playing for Dallas.
Pittsburgh is clicking so well that the Penguins are scoring even when they are not trying. Malkin scored his 43rd of the season early in the third came on a play when he blindly flipped a backhanded centering pass at the net that deflected in off Mason's left pad.
It was that kind of night, then again it often is when the Jets are in Pittsburgh. The Penguins have won 11 straight at home against Winnipeg -- formerly the Atlanta Thrashers -- the last loss coming on Dec. 27, 2006.
NOTES: The Penguins scratched D Ben Lovejoy, G Brent Johnson and forwards Richard Park, Dustin Jeffrey and Joe Vitale. ... The Jets scratched defensemen Randy Jones and Mark Flood and forwards Eric Fehr, Chris Thorburn and Nik Antropov. ... The Penguins have won eight straight home games, the longest active streak in the league. ... Thiessen made 26 saves as he gave No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury the night off.