Crosby sparks 5-1 victory over Islanders
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Penguins are still on the dark side of .500, have only three victories to show for 13 nights of work this season.
But they are beginning, day-by-day, to look like the team so many expected them to be when their roster was overhauled this summer -- when they super-charged their rebuilding program by adding Sidney Crosby and some high-impact free agents.
Last night, they produced their finest performance -- and, not coincidentally, their first genuine 60-minute effort -- of the season in a 5-1 victory against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
The Penguins, who have won consecutive games for the first time this season, raised their record to 3-5-5 and, more important, proved to themselves what they are capable of achieving when they follow a basic formula.
With their offensive talent, if they can avoid bad penalties, get solid goaltending and give a focused five-man effort in the defensive zone -- all of which happened last night -- they can compete with any team. And outplay most of them.
"When we play the way we're supposed to play, we're a pretty good team," right winger Mark Recchi said. "When we play the proper way, we're a good hockey club, and I think guys are starting to figure that out."
The game last night was the Penguins' first without a glaring lapse or costly letdown. Not surprisingly, it also was the first time they've led a game wire-to-wire.
"We played solid for three periods," left winger John LeClair said. "That was the big key. We didn't stop playing in the third. It was a good game, start to finish.
"We're a lot better now than we were a week ago. That's a real positive sign."
The Penguins were coming off a 4-3 overtime victory in New Jersey two nights earlier, and coach Eddie Olczyk described their showing against the Islanders as "a continuation of the other night."
Whether they can carry that over into their game in Boston tomorrow isn't clear, but beating the Devils and Islanders eliminated any danger that the Penguins' five-game trip will be an unmitigated disaster.
And while they're hardly a lock to reel off three more victories before returning home, they have developed a belief in themselves that was conspicuously absent most of the season.
"There's so much confidence in the room," goalie Sebastien Caron said.
It helps that the Penguins are getting production from some of their most important players. Last night, Crosby scored two goals -- his first multi-goal game in the NHL -- and set up another. Mario Lemieux had three assists. So did Ryan Whitney, giving him four in two NHL games.
Crosby acknowledged that "I was happy I was able to put a few in," but seemed more pleased that, "as a team, we really played solid."
That includes Caron, who stopped 22 of 23 shots. And, while he rarely was forced to be spectacular, he rejected just about everything the Islanders threw toward him.
Caron downplayed his part in the victory -- "It was too easy," he said. His teammates did not.
"Caron made some big saves when we needed them," Crosby said.
The only puck Caron didn't stop, a slap shot by Alexei Yashin from the top of the left circle at 13:40 of the second period, might have gone through him if he'd gotten in front of it.
Crosby (4:40) and Recchi (15:27) had scored in the opening period to put the Penguins up, 2-0 -- just the second time this season they had scored the first goal of the game or taken a lead into the first intermission -- but Yashin's goal presented a challenge for the Penguins.
They were faced with the kind of adversity that frequently caused them to unravel in October, but this time, they retained their composure -- and regained their two-goal advantage -- when Erik Christensen flipped a Ziggy Palffy rebound past New York goalie Rick DiPietro at 15:43 of the second.
"A two-goal lead is so much better than a one-goal lead," LeClair said. "It's nice having that cushion. It's a big difference."
And a three-goal advantage is bigger as the Penguins discovered when LeClair tipped a Whitney shot behind DiPietro with 37.3 seconds to go before the second intermission.
"It hit my stick," LeClair said.
Funny how often that's happened since he entered the league.
Crosby ended the scoring at 4:01 of the third, steering a Lemieux pass under the crossbar during a five-on-three power play.
The Penguins never were threatened the rest of the way and left town with a growing belief that their early season miseries are on the way to becoming a distant memory.