PITTSBURGH, PA (NEWS 1130) – Evgeni Malkin scored and picked up an assist in his return from a lower-body injury, Sidney Crosby got his 999th career point with an assist and the Pittsburgh Penguins rolled by the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 on Tuesday night.
Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel and Matt Cullen also scored for the Penguins. Matt Murray stopped 29 shots for his third shutout of the season and fourth of his career.
Pittsburgh broke it open with three third-period goals past goalie Ryan Miller. Crosby fed a streaking Guentzel down the slot 2:27 into the third to make it 2-0 and pull Crosby within a point of becoming the 86th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 points.
Miller made 38 saves while under siege for most of the night as the Penguins remained unbeaten in regulation since the All-Star break (5-0-2).
Despite a series of injuries, the defending Stanley Cup champions have managed to keep pace in the supremely tight Metropolitan Division, where the Penguins, Columbus and the New York Rangers are separated by all of two points as they try to keep first-place Washington in striking distance.
Malkin appeared ready to return last Saturday night in Arizona before being made a late scratch by coach Mike Sullivan. Given another couple of days to rest, the Russian star picked up right where he left off before getting injured against St. Louis on Jan. 24. He gave Pittsburgh the lead with his 23rd goal, which was also one of his easiest.
The Penguins were swarming around Miller when Trevor Daley found himself with the puck at the top of the zone. Rather than fire it into a sea of bodies, he slipped a pass to Olli Maatta along the left boards. Maatta skated in and fed Malkin at the far post. Malkin shook off Vancouver’s Luca Sbisa and tapped it into the net 5:51 into the second.
The Canucks, nearing the end of their second six-game road trip of the season, appeared to be skating in slush at times. The Penguins controlled play for long stretches but appeared too content to pass it around rather than fire it at Miller.
Vancouver counterpunched effectively, generating most of its opportunities on breakouts rather than any sort of sustained pressure, but Murray was spectacular at times. He snagged Jack Skille’s wrist shot on a breakaway out of midair late in the second and stoned Skille on another breakaway early in the third.
By then the Penguins were firmly in control after Crosby set up Guentzel’s sixth of the season. Malkin then created a tap-in for Kessel by playing keepaway from two Vancouver defenders and Miller before giving it to Kessel on the doorstep for his 20th of the season.
The Canucks will travel to St. Louis to face the Blues on Thursday.