Gionta had two goals and an assist Saturday afternoon and the Canadiens ended a five-game losing streak to the Penguins with a 5-3 win at Bell Centre.
Tomas Plekanec finished with a goal and two assists, Scott Gomez and Mathieu Darche also scored and Jaroslav Halak made 18 saves to win his third straight start as the Habs maintained their hold on sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
"We were initiating the play," Gionta said. "We weren't sitting back and waiting for them to come to us. Against a team like that, so skilled, so offensively talented, you need to initiate the play and get them back on their heels."
Pascal Dupuis, Bill Guerin and Evgeni Malkin scored for the Penguins, who had won two in a row and outscored the Canadiens 12-4 in three previous victories this season. But they failed to achieve the season sweep and Marc-Andre Fleury was lifted in the third after Darche's goal, having stopped 24 of 28 shots.
Brent Johnson finished up, with Fleury anticipated to be back in net Sunday afternoon when the Penguins travel to face the Washington Capitals in a nationally-televised game.
"I don't think we played a very good game today as a team, and that's a very disappointing way to lose a match," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
The Canadiens pulled away in the third period as the journeyman Darche skated off left wing and ripped in his second of the season at 7:15, and Gionta victimized Johnson at 10:47 with his second of the game and 16th of the season.
"It was a special feeling scoring in the Bell Centre for the Canadiens," said Darche, a 33-year-old Montreal native whose previous goal this season came on the road, in New Jersey. "It was a rush of adrenaline and it was nice because it gave us an extra goal lead. With a team like Pittsburgh you never have too many goals because you know they have the firepower to come back."
Malkin came out of the penalty box after serving an instigating penalty to Guerin for a fight with Ryan White and scored on a shorthanded breakaway with 3:16 left to close the scoring.
White was just called up from the AHL along with fellow forwards Brock Trotter and David Desharnais as the Canadiens battle a slew of injuries. They played on a line together and drew penalties on consecutive shifts in the second period.
"They created a lot of energy, they created a lot of chances and they weren't a liability at all out there defensively," Gionta said. "I thought they played a great game, especially having three of them together out there."
Gionta's first goal came off a breakaway and gave Montreal a 2-1 lead 9:38 into the second. Then, after Brooks Orpik was sent off for interference at 10:09, he helped set up a Gomez tally 12 seconds into the ensuing power play.
Guerin's wrist shot went off the glove of Halak and in with 6:03 left to pull Pittsburgh to within a goal heading into the third.
Both teams got on the board in the opening 62 seconds of the game. Fleury got tripped up behind the net by Darche while going to play the puck and couldn't get back in time to stop Plekanec's shot at 29 seconds. But the early lead didn't last, as Dupuis tipped Jordan Staal's shot past Halak at 1:02 to tie the score.
"I thought we reacted well," captain Sidney Crosby said. "Dups goes out there and gets one right after that, so that was a good response I think from us. As you look at the game as a whole, consistently out execution just wasn't there. We didn't create enough. We spent a lot of time in our zone and we took some penalties. We didn't give ourselves a real good chance to win today."
Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.
1 - 0 MTL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 MTL
3 - 1 MTL
3 - 2 MTL
4 - 2 MTL
5 - 2 MTL