What a long, strong trip it’s been.
The Pittsburgh Penguins polished off what could be a signature stretch of their season Saturday night with a 5-0 win over the Canucks in Vancouver. They will fly home Sunday with a 4-0 tour of Canada in their memory banks and a 6-1-2 record overall atop the Metropolitan Division.
Casey DeSmith made 29 saves for his second career shutout. Offensively, the big guns shined. Evgeni Malkin had two goals and an assist, Sidney Crosby scored twice, Phil Kessel added a goal and an assist and Jake Guentzel had two assists for the Penguins.
The trek started nine days earlier with a 3-0 win at Toronto. Then came a little R&R, along with a couple practices, during a long weekend in scenic Banff, Alberta, an idea from the coaching staff that is looking brilliant.
The Penguins continued with a 6-5 win Tuesday at Edmonton and a 9-1 shellacking of Calgary before Saturday’s win.
It started with a Matt Murray shutout and ended with DeSmith’s bookend shutout.
The Penguins got a scare in the first period when defenseman Kris Letang retreated to the locker room after a collision with Vancouver’s Tim Schaller that appeared to affect Letang’s left knee. He returned later in the period of what was still a scoreless game.
It remained 0-0 until Kessel came around from behind the net and whacked home a bouncing rebound in the crease after an Olli Maatta shot. It was Kessel’s team-leading seventh goal.
Crosby scored at 16:34 of the second. Off the rush, he took a slick feed from Dominik Simon and – no drum roll needed – beat goaltender Jacob Markstrom with a backhander.
With 5:45 left in regulation, Malkin tucked the puck inside the post past Markstrom’s glove off a cross-zone pass from Daniel Sprong to make it 3-0. Malkin has six multiple-point performances in nine games.
Malkin struck again 59 seconds later from the slot to make it 4-0.
It was Malkin’s team-leading 18th point after earlier getting the secondary assist on Kessel’s goal.
Crosby topped it off with 2:16 left, making it 5-0, his fifth goal of the season and the trip.
The Penguins outscored their four opponents 23-6 on the trip.
It might be too early in the season for this to stand up as the pivotal road trip for the Penguins, as, say, a 5-0 trip late in 2008-09 that seemed to spark a stretch run and set up a Stanley Cup title was. But it could be important in the club’s transition from a so-so start to the level of play expected for a perennial contender.
Crosby and Patric Hornqvist broke season-opening goal droughts during the trip, with Crosby getting seven points in the four games. Matt Cullen picked up his first goal since rejoining the club. Murray, making his first three starts since he recovered from a concussion, was strong. Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel and center Derek Grant played their first couple games of the season.
And the Penguins swept the road trip despite losing defenseman Justin Schultz long-term because of a broken leg beforehand.
The only personnel setback was a lower-body injury to Derrick Brassard late in the Calgary game that forced him to miss Saturday’s game. He is considered day to day.
The Penguins return to PPG Paints Arena Tuesday for a game against the New York Islanders.