PITTSBURGH (AP) — Their MVP candidate center, the one that’s not Sidney Crosby, is hurting. Four of their top seven defensemen are in street clothes dealing with a variety of injuries.
And yet the Pittsburgh Penguins keep rolling anyway.
Their 6-4 victory over New Jersey on Friday night included the usual dash of brilliance from Crosby but also plenty of help from those who normally find themselves watching Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — out with an upper body injury — do their thing.
All four lines contributed at least one goal as the Penguins moved within a point of first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division. Crosby picked up two to move into a tie with Brad Marchand for the NHL lead with 37. Phil Kessel picked up his first in a month, Nick Bonino collected his fifth in his last six games and 27-year-old rookie Carter Rowney added the first of his career.
“There’s a time for all four lines to start scoring, it’s March and April and then into the playoffs,” Bonino said. “Obviously we’re happy with that.”
Crosby added an assist to give him 640 in his career and move him into a tie with Jaromir Jagr for the second-most in franchise history. Matt Murray stopped 32 shots for Pittsburgh as the Penguins improved to 4-0 this season against the Devils, outscoring New Jersey 19-10 in the process, though this one was a little more wide-open than most.
Kyle Palmieri matched Crosby with two goals for New Jersey. Stefan Noesen and Beau Bennett also scored for the Devils. Keith Kinkaid finished with 37 saves but New Jersey couldn’t keep up with the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“They’re play makers over there,” Kinkaid said. “A few of the goals just ended up in the open nets. I felt great out there. I thought the guys battled all the way until the end. It’s good to score goals, but maybe stay out of the box a little bit too and minimize their chances.”
The Penguins have hung around in the heated race for the top spot in the NHL’s toughest division despite a series of injuries that only seems to be picking up speed as the end of the regular season draws near.
Ron Hainsey, acquired from Carolina just before the trade deadline last month to provide needed depth and a healthy body along the blue line instead joined sidelined defensemen Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley and Kris Letang after suffering an upper body injury in a loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday and is “week to week” according to coach Mike Sullivan.
While all four are expected back by the time the playoffs begin, for now the Penguins are being forced to get by with a makeshift bunch that includes talented but flawed youngster Derrick Pouliot and Chad Ruhwedel.
Of course, having Crosby helps.
The captain always tends to raise his level of play when Malkin is sidelined and when Crosby slammed home a one-timer off a pretty pass from Mark Streit that gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead late in the first period, it gave him 43 goals in 101 career games with Malkin’s familiar No. 71 out of the lineup.
Bonino pushed Pittsburgh’s advantage to 4-2 late in the second period before Bennett, a longtime Penguin who joined New Jersey after a handful of star-crossed years in Pittsburgh, put home a rebound with 51 seconds left in the second and the Devils were again within one.
Enter Rowney, who has slowly worked his way from undrafted free agent in 2013 all the way to the NHL. He took a feed from Tom Kuhnhackl and skated in front for the crease, patiently waiting for Kinkaid to commit before flipping it into the open net 5:27 into the third.
“I was just trying to wait him out kind of,” Rowney said. “I saw he went down early, I just tried to wait him out and was lucky enough to finish.”
Palmieri’s 10th goal in his last 12 games trimmed the deficit to 5-4 with less than 4 minutes left but Crosby’s empty netter sealed it.
NOTES: Kessel’s goal was his first since Feb. 16. He missed a chance at adding to that total when Kinkaid stopped him on a penalty shot in the second period. … Pittsburgh’s 28 home wins are tied with Washington for most in the NHL. … Both teams went 1 for 4 on the power play. … Mario Lemieux is Pittsburgh’s all-time leader in career assists with 1,033.
Devils: Host Columbus on Sunday. The Blue Jackets have taken two of the three meetings this season.
Penguins: Host Florida on Sunday. Pittsburgh is 2-0 against the Panthers this season.
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