PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby felt Cam Fowler‘s stick desperately tugging at his jersey and kept right on skating. Breaking in all alone against Anaheim goaltender John Gibson, Crosby kept Fowler at bay long enough to rip a wrist shot over Gibson’s glove and into the net, the most elaborate display of a hot streak that shows no signs of slowing.
The captain that muddled through the fall is surging in mid-winter. So is his team.
Crosby scored on a pair of breakaways to extend his goal streak to a career-best seven games and added two assists while the Penguins rolled past the Ducks 6-2 on Monday night.
“His game is at another level right now,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s a big reason we continue to gain traction in the standings.”
The Penguins have won six of seven during Crosby’s latest binge, one that has propelled him all the way to fifth in the league-scoring race, a stunning turnaround for a player that had just 18 points in 28 games when Sullivan took over for Mike Johnston on Dec. 12. Crosby has 34 points in Sullivan’s 23 games on the bench.
“It’s been good here lately,” Crosby said. “Everybody’s playing good. As a team we’re finding our game. Our starts have gotten a lot better.”
Having Crosby at the top of his game certainly helps. The two-time MVP failed to make the All-Star team while healthy for the first time in his career. He now has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in four games since spending the break at home instead of Nashville with teammates Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin.
“It gives us confidence on the ice every time he’s got the puck,” Kunitz said. “It gives us a good feeling that we’re going to have something we can accomplish out there and get points.”
Ryan Getzlaf and Patrick Maroon scored for the Ducks. Gibson made 25 saves before being pulled early in the third. Pittsburgh’s six goals were the most allowed by Anaheim this season.
“We weren’t prepared to play with our feet,” Getzlaf said. “I didn’t think we got our legs going the way we wanted to when you have the puck. They’re a quick team. You stand still for a couple seconds before you move, they’re going to have it on their stick.”
Crosby picked up a goal and two assists in a stunning comeback win in Florida on Saturday night and was just as brilliant against the league’s hottest team. Crosby’s 15 goals since Jan. 1 are the most in the league and his nine-game goal streak at Consol Energy Center is the second-longest streak in franchise history behind a 16-game run by Hall of Famer and team owner Mario Lemieux in 1996.
The Ducks and their Western Conference leading 115 goals against figured to be a stiff test. At the start of a season-long seven-game trip, however, Anaheim looked a step slow early and never found its footing against the rapidly improving Penguins.
Crosby fed Kris Letang at the point less than four minutes in and Kunitz deflected Letang’s flip by Gibson to give the Penguins the lead just 3:38 into the game. Sheary’s third goal of the season 10:06 into the period was the reward for a relentless shift by the fourth line. The Penguins kept Anaheim pinned deep, and Sheary expertly redirected Letang’s flip by Gibson.
The Ducks made a pair of minor surges, but the Penguins responded each time. Hagelin’s first goal with the Penguins since the Ducks sent him to Pittsburgh for David Perron last month came late in the first period, 33 seconds after Getzlaf had drawn the Ducks within 2-1.
Crosby’s first breakaway pushed Pittsburgh’s lead to 4-1 before Maroon’s fourth of the year cut the deficit to two going into the third. No matter, Crosby’s 24th – and perhaps his finest – goal of the season with Fowler futilely giving chase made it 5-2 3:35 into the third and the rout was on.
“If it had to happen again, maybe I just back off and keep him in front of me, or I just have to recover better,” Fowler said. “There’s, I’d say, maybe two or three guys in the league that make that play and he’s one of them.”
NOTES: Evgeni Malkin missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury and remains day-to-day. … The Penguins went 0 for 1 on the power play. The Ducks were 0 for 2 with the man advantage. … Pittsburgh hosts the New York Rangers on Wednesday night. Anaheim visits Philadelphia on Tuesday night. … Pittsburgh’s six goals were the most allowed by the Ducks this season.