Power play leads Penguins past Canadiens, 5-2

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MONTREAL -- The Penguins' power play has received a lot of criticism this season.

Darned near every syllable of it has been deserved. Richly.

All too often during the first 44 games, they sputtered when given a chance with the extra man, routinely failing to generate goals in critical situations.

Not on this night, though.

Never mind that Sidney Crosby, their best offensive player -- heck, the best offensive player in the world at the moment -- missed his fourth consecutive game because of a concussion.

Or that their opponent, Montreal, began the evening as the top-rated penalty-killing unit in the NHL.

Didn't matter.

The Penguins' power play scored on four of six chances --the first time all season it has produced more than three goals in a game --to lead them to a 5-2 victory against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

The victory ended their 0-2-1 skid, raised their record to 27-14-4 and gave them their first victory of the season without Crosby in the lineup.

"We were obviously heading in the wrong direction," center Jordan Staal said. "We wanted to change that."

And they especially seemed to enjoy doing it in Montreal.

That was evident when goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 20 of 22 shots, punctuated the victory by striking a cross-armed pose at the end of the game, mimicking one by Montreal goalie Carey Price after the Canadiens' 2-1 shootout victory against the Penguins here last Thursday.

"It's always frustrating for us to come here and lose to the Canadiens," Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said. "That little pose [by Price] was offensive to our team."

Fleury had a strong game, but so did a lot of his teammates.

Alex Goligoski had two goals and an assist.

Staal, who did not have a point in his first five games after missing 39 because of a foot infection and broken hand, scored one and set up two.

Letang had three assists, the last of which originally was credited to him as a goal, while Chris Kunitz got a goal and an assist.

But it was the power play -- that wildly underachieving group that has cost the Penguins more than a few points this season -- that was the dominant presence in this game.

"Our [point men] were doing a great job, just firing pucks," Staal said. "We've been talking about net-front presence, and how much we needed to get in front of Price, and I thought we did a great job."

The Penguins were assessed the first two penalties of the game, Montreal the six minors that followed. Several were the kind of unnecessary, lazy infractions the Penguins have been guilty of so often in recent games.

"It seems like, especially lately, we've been getting those penalties," Goligoski said. "It's good to cash in on those when they took them."

Goligoski opened the scoring at 12:57 of the first period with -- perhaps just for the novelty of it -- an even-strength goal as he drove a slap shot past Price from above the left circle.

Tomas Plekanec tied the game 17 seconds later, and David Desharnais put Montreal up, 2-1, at 2:15 of the second, but then the Penguins' power play took over.

Tyler Kennedy beat Price from the left dot at 4:12. Staal got what turned out to be the winner with 10.9 seconds to go before intermission, when he scored from inside the left dot.

Goligoski gave the Penguins some breathing room when he swatted in a loose puck during a scramble near the crease, and Kunitz put the game away by tipping in a Letang shot at 11:29.

"Our last two [power plays that produced goals] were really good," Goligoski said. "We were just moving it around, waiting for an open shot and shooting it when we got it. Trying to keep it simple."

Not a fancy formula, certainly, but an effective one.

One they might want to stick with even after Crosby -- who is to be re-tested this week, but who apparently does not have a target date for returning -- rejoins the lineup. It is, after all, the primary reason they were able to win for the first time in a week.

"It feels like a while, especially after the last two [losses]," Goligoski said. "Those ones hurt. It definitely feels good to win. We really wanted this one."

Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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