PITTSBURGH --Erik Karlsson unexpectedly wasn’t in the lineup, seemingly a major setback for the Ottawa Senators as they began a challenging stretch of road play. As it turned out, they could have rested a lot more players on a night the lethargic Pittsburgh Penguins generated only restless stirring from their fans.
Jason Spezza, tormenting the Penguins and goalie Brent Johnson again, scored on a spectacular goal that illustrated the Senators' domination and Ottawa scored on four consecutive shots while overpowering Pittsburgh 5-1 at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night.
"We smothered them and took away their momentum and made them come through five guys to get to our net," Senators goalie Craig Anderson said. "That's how you do it. That's how you shut down a team."
In a matchup of Eastern Conference teams headed in opposition directions, the Senators also got two goals from Milan Michalek, one each from Chris Neil and Bobby Butler and three assists from Colin Greening while improving to 6-0-1 in their last seven games. They also are 9-1-2 in their last 12 -- quite the surge as they play all but one of 10 games on the road through Jan. 31.
Next up: the New York Rangers, winners of five straight and 10 of 11, Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers beat Phoenix 2-1 in a shootout on Tuesday.
"It will test our resiliency and the consistency of our game, and how good of a team we are," Sens coach Paul MacLean said. "We're still growing as a team."
Anderson, in net for all but two of the Senators’ wins, made 29 saves and is on a 6-0-1 run. This one was the easiest, and Ottawa hardly missed Karlsson, the NHL scoring leader among defenseman.
MacLean said he tweaked an upper body injury during the pregame warmup, but it is not believed to be serious and he is expected to play against the Rangers.
The slip-sliding Penguins must be eager to begin a three-game road trip that opens Wednesday night at Washington. They've dropped five straight – scoring only six goals -- for the first time since Jan. 27, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010. They've also been outscored 11-3 while losing three in a row at home over the last five days.
"This might be a good time to get out on the road and be together and have kind of a little us-against-the-world attitude," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "It's time for a real desperate effort, I think."
Pittsburgh unexpectedly welcomed back forward James Neal, who was supposed to be out for at least a month with a right foot injury but wound up not missing a game. Not that it was mattered as the Senators quickly chased Johnson for the second time in less a month.
Johnson left after giving up five goals on 10 shots in the second period of Ottawa's 6-4 win at home on Dec. 16. He got yanked again Tuesday early in the second period, yielding three goals on eight shots – giving the Senators eight goals on 18 shots against him in a two-game span.
Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck of Stanford was in the crowd, but the Penguins weren't having much luck at all.
Following a 3-1 loss to New Jersey on Saturday, defenseman Brooks Orpik and coach Dan Bylsma both said the Penguins needed to be more accountable and less prone to slumping once they experience in-game adversity. Yet that is exactly what happened again.
"We know individually and as a whole that we have more. We need to prove it to ourselves," forward Matt Cooke said.
But it was Ottawa that got off to a fast start.
Neil scored on the rebound of his undefended wraparound attempt 11:13 in the first, and Butler made it 2-0 less than three minutes later. Nick Foligno, who also assisted on Neil’s goal, carried the puck from his own blue line into the Penguins’ zone, skated around Ben Lovejoy and threaded a pass from the slot to Butler along the goal line.
"With a few plays we gave them the lead – we had a couple of breakdowns, we gave them easy goals," Bylsma said. "The story line was we got behind, and whether we did some good things or not, the score is what you see."
The highlight-reel goal – one of the best at Consol this season – was by Spezza, who has three goals and three assists in his last two games against Pittsburgh.
Spezza faked a slap shot from the right circle, only to switch to his backhand as he skated toward the net. With Johnson overplaying him, Spezza extended his stick to tuck the puck through a narrow opening inside the near post as he veered behind the net for his 16th goal.
"I got him to bite on the fake and got around him and used my reach to kind of tuck it in," Spezza said.
Greening, who enjoyed his first career three-assist game, said Spezza did much more than that.
"He did some pretty sick moves out there," Greening said. "He didn't have much room to move, especially after he deked out Johnson, but he's got great hands and he showed them."
As the Penguins heard audible boos from some in the standing room crowd of 18,603, Johnson was pulled for Marc-Andre Fleury. Pittsburgh was in first place in the Eastern Conference barely a month ago, but is now sitting precariously in the eighth and final playoffs position.
The Penguins are 5-8-0 since star Sidney Crosby left the lineup with concussion-related problems on Dec. 5.
"We're well aware of where we are in the standings," Orpik said. "Everybody's really close points-wise, and we can't for anyone to get back. This is the group that's going to pull us through this. We've just got to get going."
Evgeni Malkin scored Pittsburgh's only goal off former teammate Sergei Gonchar’s giveaway midway through the second, his 17th of the season and 15th in 22 career games against Ottawa. Michalek scored on a power play in the second and added his team-high 22th of the season in the third.
Ottawa is 7-2-5 on the road since starting the season 2-5-0.
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Interference on goalkeeper