Cook: It's going to get fun when big stars start scoring

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NEW YORK

Impressive road wins for the Penguins against Atlantic Division rivals during opening weekend of the NHL season: 2.

Goals for Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby: 0.

Inquiring minds want to know:

How good are the Penguins going to be when their stars really get going?

"Good question," winger Pascal Dupuis said, grinning.

I'm pretty sure we're all going to like the answer.

The weekend couldn't have gone better for the Penguins. They thumped the New York Rangers, 6-3, Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, chasing home early many fans who must have been exhausted booing their team from the middle of the second period on. A day earlier, the Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-1, at Wells Fargo Center. Can you say 2-0?

But it gets better.

The Rangers, who lost at Boston Saturday night, are 0-2. So are the Flyers, who were beaten Sunday at Buffalo. They don't give any team the Stanley Cup after two games, but it's easy to think the Las Vegas wise guys might have had it right when they made the Penguins the betting favorite to win the championship in this lockout-shortened season.

But it gets even better.

"We had a little meeting after the game. We weren't happy with the way we finished," Dupuis said after team officials finally opened the door to their room.

The Penguins led, 5-1, before giving up two third-period goals -- one short-handed -- to let the Rangers back into it just a bit.

"We did what we had to do to win, but we let things get away from us a little at the end there," Dupuis said. "We can't allow that to happen. We have to take this and learn from it."

You have to like the attitude, right?

You also have to like the Penguins' depth. "At the end of the day, depth is a big part of it," Crosby said when asked what it says about a team that wins two games against its most hated rivals without a goal from either of the two best players in the world.

"Hopefully, we're not going to make too much of a habit of this," Crosby said. "But it's great. It shows our depth. It shows the way we play."

Malkin didn't score, but he was the best player on the ice Sunday night. He had assists on two goals by linemate James Neal, who has three goals after two games and is on pace for 72 in the abbreviated 48-game season. He also had a terrific pass to set up a power-play goal by Dupuis. That goal gave the Penguins a 4-1 lead and sent Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to the bench with 10:49 left in the second period.

Malkin and Neal clearly have something special going. They played together last season and each had a monster year. Malkin scored 50 goals, Neal 40. They could be even better this season once the puck starts going in for Malkin. And it will start going in.

"That's a huge bonus for us," Crosby said of the chemistry between Malkin and Neal. "To have those two guys off like that, it's a big boost for us."

If there's any kind of a downer about the first two games -- and this really is a reach -- it's that Crosby was fairly ordinary. He started the season healthy and in phenomenal shape. He also wants to make up for all the time he missed the past three seasons from his head and neck injuries and the lockout. To say he's a driven player wouldn't do him justice.

But Crosby has just one point after the first two games. He won a faceoff from Derek Stepan late in the first period in the Rangers zone, pulling the puck back to defenseman Matt Niskanen, who blasted a slapper through traffic for a goal that gave the Penguins a 3-1 lead.

But that's it.

"You always want to score, whether it's Game 1 or Game 48," Crosby said, acknowledging he's eager to get that first goal out of the way.

The good news is Crosby had five shots on goal against the Rangers. He had three against the Flyers. It's not as if he were invisible on the ice.

"I feel like the chances are there," Crosby said. "They're going to go in."

For Malkin, too.

When they do, look out.

The already-interesting hockey season around here is really going to become fun.

"We had a little meeting after the game. We weren't happy with the way we finished."

-- Pascal Dupuis

mobilehome - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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