Kunitz records hat trick, Penguins whip Islanders, 6-1
Pascal Dupuis scores his second goal of the game against Islanders goaltender Kevin Poulin in the third period. at Consol Energy Center.
Chris Kunitz gets around the Islanders' Lubomir Visnovsky to score on goaltender Evgeni Nabokov for his first goal in the first period.
Chris Kunitz, center, is congratulated by Kris Letang, left, and James Neal after scoring his second goal in the first period against the New York Islanders.
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Sidney Crosby still hasn't scored against goaltender Evgeni Nabokov in his career.
His consolation Sunday night in the Penguins' 6-1 win against Nabokov and the New York Islanders was five assists.
Which means Crosby's teammates were doing a whole lot of scoring, thanks at least in part to him.
In this game, the Penguins' fifth win in a row, the glamour names piled up the points. Chris Kunitz had a hat trick plus two assists to match his centerman's five points. The other winger on that line, Pascal Dupuis, had two goals.
Winger James Neal chipped in with a goal and two assists, and defenseman Kris Letang had two assists.
A prominent name was missing. Center Evgeni Malkin sat out because of an unspecified injury and, according to coach Dan Bylsma, will miss one to two weeks.
Malkin got hurt Saturday in the third period of a 5-4 shootout win at Toronto, presumably on a check by Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk.
The defending NHL scoring leader and MVP has five goals, 24 points in 21 games and recently missed four games because of a concussion, but Bylsma indicated Malkin does not have a concussion.
"That is not a concern," Bylsma said.
Playing without him in a condensed season because of an earlier lockout could be.
"It's not a guy we're going to replace," Crosby said. "Everyone knows that. I think everyone probably puts a little more pressure on themselves, but we don't want to change too much with the way that we play and our identity."
If the Penguins could bottle the formula they want to use to win, it would look a lot like their game against the Islanders -- offense all over the place and strong team defense -- save for the opening few minutes when New York controlled play.
By the end of the first period, though, the Penguins held a 3-0 lead and were given a standing ovation by the crowd of 18,634 as they headed to their dressing room.
"The start wasn't great, but by the end of the first we were up a couple of goals. We just kept going," said Kunitz, whose first two goals came on the power play and who moved to third in the NHL with 36 points, nine behind Crosby, who leads the league.
"We're probably not going to score six goals every night, but allowing [only] one was a big thing," Dupuis said.
Maybe not six a night, but the Penguins lead the NHL with 97 goals in 26 games, or 3.7 a game. They have scored 27 over their past five games.
In the first period, the Penguins are outscoring opponents, 33-16, and have opened the scoring 19 times in 26 games -- including Sunday, when they ran their record when scoring first to 14-5.
They also improved to 11-0 when leading after two periods.
The Penguins got their six goals on 28 shots against Nabokov and his third-period replacement, Kevin Poulin.
"They didn't have many shots but when they did, they were pretty good chances with some pretty good guys shooting," New York coach Jack Capuano said.
Dupuis extended his goal streak to three games -- after going seven without one -- when he scored at 7:10 from barely above the extended goal line and almost to the right-wing boards. He one-timed a pass from Kunitz. It clanged off the near post, off of Nabokov and into the net.
Crosby also got an assist, running his points streak to eight games.
The Penguins pushed their lead to 2-0 with a tic-tac-toe power-play goal -- Crosby to Neal to Kunitz, who scored at 13:46 from just in front.
On the power-play goal that gave the Penguins a 3-0 lead, Neal set up Kunitz with a backhanded pass at 16:41.
The Penguins outshot the Islanders, 12-4, in the first period and the Islanders didn't get another until 8:07 into the second period. But they made it count.
Penguins defenseman Simon Despres, reaching for the puck near the defensive blue line, lost his balance and fell. That allowed for a short two-on-one break for the Islanders, and Brad Boyes lifted the puck past the glove of Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun to make it 3-1 at 8:07 of the second period.
The Penguins were hardly done scoring.
Kunitz completed a hat trick when he scored on a rebound of a shot by Letang, making it 4-1 at 13:34 of the second period. Fans flooded the ice surface with not only hats but also sock dolls they had received as a promotional giveaway.
It was Kunitz's fourth career hat trick, third with the Penguins and second this season. He had four goals Feb. 23 in a 6-3 win at Washington.
"He's not a flashy player," Bylsma said of Kunitz. "He's not a guy who goes end to end or tries to beat guys one on one. He's a straight-line [player], real simple in how he plays. He goes to the front of the net. Right now, he's finding the back of the net over and over again."
Just 16 seconds later, Neal scored on a breakaway when he beat New York's Andrew Mac Donald to the puck, raced in and beat Nabokov for a 5-1 lead.
After Poulin replaced Nabokov for the start of the third period, Dupuis got his second goal -- and Crosby his fifth assist, and Kunitz his fifth point -- when he converted on a drop pass from Crosby down low to make it 6-1 at 6:39 of the third.
With that result, Crosby is willing to wait to try to solve Nabokov.
"I feel like every time I play against him I get great chances and it doesn't go in," Crosby said. "It's kind of weird the way that works.
"It's nice to get the win and to get five assists. That's not something that happens a lot."
First Published March 11, 2013 12:00 am