ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The blueprint is always there, drawn up with care and knowledge of what the Penguins can do.
Last night, the team covered all the angles, paid attention to details and put together a game that looked like the kind of final product that could be expected from a talented lineup.
On a night that kicked off a four-game, eight-day road trip, the Penguins held off the Northwest Division-leading Minnesota Wild, 4-2, to stop a two-game losing streak and win at Xcel Energy Center for the first time.
"I thought that was probably our best effort of the year," defenseman Ryan Whitney said.
Top to bottom, the Penguins nailed it, getting goals from the players who are supposed to score, getting a solid game from backup goaltender Dany Sabourin, staring down a Wild team that lives off a stifling defense -- all the while taking care of its own end.
It started at the top, with center Sidney Crosby collecting a goal on a pretty breakaway and three assists. His left winger, Evgeni Malkin, had two goals and an assist. Their right winger, Ryan Malone, had two assists.
"Crosby's line was on fire," coach Michel Therrien said. "They were skating very well, creating some good opportunities, but being cautious about the defensive game as well."
Twice, Minnesota erased a one-goal Penguins lead.
The Penguins regained the lead for good, 3-2, when Petr Sykora's wrist shot from the slot beat goaltender Josh Harding at 10:05 of the third period on the Penguins' only power play. They iced it 4:24 later when defenseman Sergei Gonchar's eyes got big as he got the puck, after Malkin blocked a shot, and saw Crosby streaking out of his own end.
"The only thing I was worried about was if it might jump off my blade," Gonchar said with a small laugh.
The pass was crisp, and Crosby soared from near the center red line on a breakaway to beat Harding with a forehand shot that slid under the goaltender.
Sabourin stopped 28 of 30 shots by the Wild, whose scoring chances seemed to come in flurries.
The Penguins seemed to start slow, but it was more a case of being patient, setting things up in their own end.
"We knew if we went [flying] down against them we'd be in trouble," Whitney said.
Things opened up in the second period just enough for the teams to take advantage of some offensive chances.
"We had to be patient," Crosby said. "They play a strong system and they're disciplined. We really made an effort to skate and create chances. I don't think we sat back, and that can be easy to do against a team like this."
Malkin found a minuscule space between Harding's left skate and the goal post for a wraparound goal at 3:30 of the second period to break the ice.
Crosby, at the far side of the net, partially whiffed on a pass behind the net to Malkin, but it was just enough for the puck to trickle to the winger.
Stephane Veilleux tied it from the left circle at 6:14 when he pounced on the long, wide rebound of a Branko Radivojevic slap shot from the opposite circle that left Sabourin scrambling side-to-side in the net.
Fifteen seconds later, Malkin restored the lead for the Penguins. He dove in the right circle to deposit a rebound from a Malone shot that bounced off Crosby in front of the crease.
"Our first line played unreal," Sykora said. "They created most of the chances, and they turned the game around in the second period with those two big goals."
Minnesota came back again when Brian Rolston deposited a feed from Mikko Koivu to tie it, 2-2, at 6:26 of the third period. With Brent Burns off for tripping Penguins center Maxime Talbot, Sykora made it 3-2 at 10:05 of the third period for what turned out to be the winner.
Then it was up to Crosby, who moved into the team lead with 17 points and has a 10-game point streak, to seal it. Which is about what would be expected of the team captain who led the NHL in scoring last season.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721. First Published October 31, 2007 4:00 AM