It was Sidney Crosby’s big return from his most serious injury since his concussion saga nearly seven years ago. It was also another big night for the Penguins new dynamic duo Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin who hooked up on a pair of goals. And it was a bigger night for the Pittsburgh Penguins who finally got a glimpse of what a healthy roster would look like. They pulled away from the Minnesota Wild 7-3 at PPG Paints Arena Tuesday night.
Crosby (6) scored the backbreaking goal midway through the third period when his backhand was deflected by past Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Moments later, he notched his fourth point (1g, 3a) when he set up Dominik Simon (5) for a power-play goal.
“He’s our leader,” Malkin said simply.
Malkin had a three-point night with a pair of goals and an assist. Jared McCann, Rust and Simon each had two points (1g, 1a).
“(Malkin) has had a certain drive since early on in training camp,” head coach Mike Sullivan said.
It was fitting that Evgeni Malkin scored the first goal of the game with an assist from Bryan Rust and Sidney Crosby. Midway through the first period, the Penguins power play executed a textbook zone entry. The full-speed entry became a give-and-go between Malkin and Rust, who slid a pass to Malkin in the crease.
Malkin (14) did his best Happy Gilmore to tap, tap, it in. He has points in 14 of his last 16 games (8g, 15a). Malkin led the Penguins in Crosby’s absence with 38 points (11g, 27a) in 26 games played.
Also, Rust set a career-high with his 39th point of the season, which broke his previous best set in 2017-18 when he scored 38 points in 69 games.
The Penguins scored again late in the first period when Dominick Simon, John Marino, and Jared McCann bolted from the defensive zone for a three-on-two. Simon slipped a pass across the slot to McCann (14) who snapped it past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk.
The Penguins continued their patient strike approach in the second period.
Later in the middle period, the Penguins unstoppable line with Dominik Kahun, Malkin and Rust struck again. Kahun sprang Malkin on a partial breakaway, but as the Minnesota defensemen caught Malkin, he dropped it back to Rust, who was uncovered.
“(The pass) was hockey instincts,” Malkin deadpanned before smiling broadly. “I knew two guys jumped to me, and I hoped “Rusty” was behind.”
Rust (19) was behind Malkin and delivered a precise wrister to the short side for his career-best 19th goal of the season.
One minute later it appeared Patric Hornqvist scored another power-play goal with a beautiful tip. However, it was credited Malkin (15) as it Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter who deflected Malkin’s pass into the top corner of the Minnesota net.
Minnesota made a charge late in the second period when Zach Parise (15) converted a three-on-two rush with a wicked top-shelf wrist shot from the left circle.
The charge continued early in the third period, too. The Penguins fourth line lost their coverages and Marcus Foligno had a short breakaway on Jarry. Foligno (9) deked to the backhand to trim the Pittsburgh Penguins lead to 4-2.
Crosby ended the drama with a goal and an assist 39 seconds apart midway through the third period.
Not to be left out, Alex Galchenyuk scored his fifth of the season late in the third. Parise potted his second of the night, a meaningless power-play goal with 11 seconds left to finish off the scoring.
There was some confusion before the opening faceoff. Minnesota was forced to play with just five defensemen after coach Bruce Boudreau mishandled the lineup and defenseman Greg Pateryn was not allowed to play. Minnesota was instead trapped with 13 forwards, as Ryan Donato was left in the lineup.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have won four in a row. Goalie Tristan Jarry stopped 26 of 29 shots. Dubnyk stopped only 22 of 28 shots.