PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby returned from an upper-body injury to pick up a goal and two assists and the Pittsburgh Penguins drilled the Dallas Stars 5-1 on Wednesday night.
The Pittsburgh captain missed three games after getting hurt last week, the latest setback during a forgettable early opening quarter of the season for the perennial Stanley Cup contenders.
Crosby provided Pittsburgh with a needed spark. He set up Jake Guentzel for a goal less than 4 minutes into the game and provided a highlight-reel marker later in the opening period when he raced to the net and smacked in a rebound past Anton Khudobin to give Pittsburgh a three-goal lead.
Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and Tanner Pearson also scored for the Penguins. Two days after letting a 4-1 advantage disappear in a loss to Buffalo, Pittsburgh clamped down on the Stars. Casey DeSmith was rarely tested early and finished with 18 saves.
Mattias Janmark spoiled DeSmith’s bid for a shutout with a third-period goal for Dallas, but the Stars couldn’t recover after getting buried early. Khudobin was pulled after Pearson beat him with a slap shot on the breakaway made it 5-0. Khudobin stopped just 11 of 16 shots. Rookie Landon Bow played well in his NHL debut, stopping all 14 shots he faced.
The Penguins began the day at the bottom of the Eastern Conference thanks to a 1-7-2 slide, unfamiliar territory for a team less than 18 months removed from back to back championships. The defence has been shaky at best and the goaltending not much better. Head coach Mike Sullivan preached patience and on Tuesday stressed the team had no plans to abandon the frenetic style of play that has become its trademark during his nearly three-year tenure.
For a night, it seemed like old times. Having Crosby’s familiar No. 87 in the lineup certainly helped.
He slid a backhand pass across the ice to Guentzel for a one-timer that slipped between Khudobin’s pads to give the Penguins the lead 3:58 into the first period. Malkin’s wrist shot on the power play just over 2 minutes later doubled Pittsburgh’s advantage, the Russian star flexing as the red goal light came on.
Crosby collected his ninth of the season in spectacular fashion, racing down the right side while holding off Dallas defenceman Esa Lindell before flicking a shot at Khudobin and knocking in the rebound. The goal wrapped a frantic start by Pittsburgh against a team that had allowed just 10 first-period goals all season.
It would get no better for Dallas in the second. DeSmith denied Tyler Seguin on a breakaway and moments later Hornqvist flipped in a rebound to push it to 4-0. The sequence repeated itself when DeSmith got a pad on a shot by Janmark, leading to a breakout that ended with Pearson — acquired in a trade with Los Angeles last week — ripping a slap shot that ended Khudobin’s night.
NOTES: The Penguins went 1 for 3 on the power play. The Stars were 0 for 2 with the man advantage. … Dallas scratched starting goalie Ben Bishop (injury), D Julius Honka and F Gemel Smith. … Pittsburgh scratched D Chad Ruhwedel and F Daniel Sprong.
Stars: Host Ottawa on Friday night.
Penguins: Visit Boston on Friday night.
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Will Graves, The Associated Press