The Pittsburgh Penguins resoundingly ended their worst losing streak in nearly a decade with a dominating performance over the scrappy but understaffed Ottawa Senators. Penguins defensemen John Marino and Brian Dumoulin returned to the lineup and the Penguins top line put two goals on the board as Crosby and Jason Zucker earned three points. Bryan Rust made it rain hats with his third career hat trick and the Penguins cruised to a 7-3 win on Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Crosby’s assist on the Penguins fifth goal (Zucker) was his 800th in his NHL career. The Penguins opening goal was also the first time in seven games the Penguins scored the first goal.
“(The first goal) certainly helps. It would help our team confidence,” head coach Mike Sullivan said before the game. “It would certainly help if we can get the first goal, and with a lead, we haven’t done it in a while.”
The Penguins did more than score the first goal. They buried a pair in the first 99 seconds of the game.
First, Evgeni Malkin won a puck battle in the offensive zone and zipped a pass to John Marino at the point. Just 48 seconds into the game, Marino (6) wristed the puck through traffic and past Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson.
Just 51 seconds after that, the Penguins top line added their stamp, too. Ottawa afforded Penguins winger Conor Sheary time and space as he skated laterally through the slot. Sheary (10) attempted a backdoor pass to Sidney Crosby, but instead of Crosby getting the goal, Ottawa defenseman Mike Reilly deflected it into his own goal.
Sheary got credit, and the Penguins had their first two-goal lead in recent memory.
Ottawa scored midway through the first period, too. After Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz slid out of position to block a centering pass, the Penguins left Reilly open for a wrist shot in the high slot. His shot clanged the post behind Penguins goalie Matt Murray, but Jayce Hawryluk (2), slipped past the sprawled Schultz to poke the loose puck into the net.
However, the Penguins had their legs in their first game home after a winless three-game west-coast trip and six straight losses. Bryan Rust (25) snapped a power-play goal from the slot to reestablish the Penguins two-goal lead.
The Penguins drifted through part of the second period but finally, put the game out of reach later in the second period. Penguins winger Jason Zucker dove to the ice to knock a loose puck to Crosby. A moment later, Crosby (14) scored when his goal-line wrist shot deflected off Nikita Zaitsev in the crease.
The Penguins scored in the first minute of the third period, too. Zucker created a neutral zone turnover then went to the net. Zucker (20) deflected Sheary’s pass on the net, then finished the rebound.
Ottawa got a bounce about 30 seconds later as Nikita Zaitsev’s (2) shot from the blue line was deflected by Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson.
Connor Brown (15) scored a power-play goal in the middle of the third period to keep the score respectable. Brown beat Murray on a long wrist shot from the top of the slot.
Late in the third period, the Penguins flexed their muscle again as Malkin and Patric Hornqvist worked a textbook give-and-go high in the offensive zone. Anderson stopped Hornqvist on the doorstep but Rust (26) finished the play.
In the final few minutes, Rust (27) ripped a wrister past Anderson to finish the Penguins breakout night.
Penguins goalie Matt Murray was mostly untested. He stopped 22 of 25. Ottawa netminder, 38-year-old Craig Anderson who is likely playing out the string of a 17-year career stopped 25 of 32 shots.
The win pulled the Penguins to within one point of second-place Philadelphia Flyers in the Metro Division and extended their lead over Carolina for the final playoff spot to seven points.