Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins top line scored. Scored again. And they scored again as the Pittsburgh Penguins cruised into the four-day NHL holiday break by adding two more points in the standings and putting coal in the Carolina Hurricanes stockings. Crosby had three assists and Jake Guentzel had two goals as the Penguins shutout the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-0.
Kris Letang was fittingly the first to get the Penguins on the scoreboard, eight minutes into the first period. Letang, whose name has been inserted (finally) into the Norris Trophy conversation this week, crashed the net when he saw long-time teammate Crosby hold off defensemen behind the Carolina net. When Crosby went to his backhand, Letang went to the net. Crosby didn’t miss the pass and Letang (8) didn’t miss the shot.
Bryan Rust earned an assist to extend his scoring streak to five games.
The Penguins top line again befuddled the Carolina defense, early in the second period. Crosby again circled the Carolina net. This time he put the puck on Jake Guentzel’s tape. Guentzel (14) didn’t miss either.
“You could feel him taking over,” Guentzel said of Crosby.
Rust, who had eight goals in his last six games, earned an assist, but not a goal. Slacker.
The Penguins momentarily bobbled when they achieved the two-goal lead, their first since they blew four two-goal leads, last week. Though they quickly regained their stride.
Late in the second period, Crosby set up Guentzel, again. After a Carolina turnover in the offensive zone, Phil Kessel transitioned the puck ahead to Crosby as each team changed lines. Instead of circling the net, Crosby simply zipped a cross-ice pass the Guentzel in the slot. The pass looked easy, but not for mere mortal hockey players as Crosby threaded the puck between a pair of defenders. Guentzel (15) one-timed it past Carolina goalie Curtis McElhinney.
“The thing about (Guentzel), he shoots the puck well but he’s not afraid to go and get those tough goals there in the crease, and take those cross checks,” said Crosby.
The Penguins penalty kill was perfect in four chances. The unit didn’t allow a shot in the first two.
Neither team had a high shot total, though it should be noted the stingy counts of the Carolina scorers who didn’t credit Evgeni Malkin with a pair of shots, including on a backhand scoring chance.
It was also a rough night for Carolina forward Michael Ferland and defenseman Dougie Hamilton. The pair combined for nine turnovers, with five from Ferland.
Penguins goalie Matt Murray won his third straight and earned his eighth career shutout. Murray improved his record to 7-5-1 after making 39 saves.
The Penguins now get four days off. Their schedule will resume Thursday, Dec. 27 at home against the Detroit Red Wings.