PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins keep playing better without their stars than many teams do with their best players in the lineup.
The Penguins, missing the sidelined Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, got a goal and an assist from Pascal Dupuis and Joe Vitale set up two goals during a 4-2 victory against the Florida Panthers at the Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 32 saves as the busy Penguins, playing their home opener and their fourth game in six days, improved to 3-0-1. They have picked up three of a possible four points while playing without both Crosby (concussion) and Malkin (lower-body injury) in their last two games.
Nothing new there. During the last two seasons, Pittsburgh is 20-11-5 without both Crosby and Malkin and 26-13-6 without Crosby, its captain who has been out since Jan. 5. Crosby went through another strenuous pre-game skate earlier in the day and will see a doctor sometime later this week – perhaps to receive clearance to practice with full contact for the first time since he was hurt.
"I think we got a little confidence from last year knowing we can win without them," Fleury said. "We want them to come back as soon as possible, and it would be great to have them with us. But we've got to find ways to hold together, contribute and get some wins."
Malkin was held out after sustaining his undisclosed injury Saturday at Calgary. Pens coach Dan Bylsma said his injury is not to Malkin's right knee, which was surgically repaired in February after he tore two ligaments. Pittsburgh also was without defenseman Brooks Orpik (sports hernia), who has yet to play this season.
"We're a deep team," said Dupuis, who played on a line with Vitale and Matt Cooke that produced five points. "Guys who have different roles when No. 87 and No. 71 are in the lineup know how to play bigger roles when we're without Geno and Sid. But the system doesn't change – we keep playing the same way."
The Panthers, 1-1 after winning their opener 2-0 against the Islanders on Saturday, didn't manage much offense against the Penguins and allowed a couple of their role players, the veteran Richard Park and Vitale, to play pivotal roles. The 35-year-old Park scored shorthanded to put Pittsburgh ahead 3-1 at 15:21 of the second.
Marcel Goc and Tomas Fleischmann each scored for Florida after Pittsburgh had taken two-goal leads, but the Panthers went 0-for-5 on the power play. They are 0-for-17 with the man advantage while losing all five games against the Penguins over the last two seasons.
Penguins' opponents are 0-for-16 on the power play this season against what was the NHL's best penalty-killing unit last season.
"I thought we had some chances throughout the game and had some jump," Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell said. "I thought we had something going on, but it's never easy giving up a shorthanded goal. It's another mistake that we make, and it ends up costing us."
Goc made it 2-1 at 11:39 of the second, off a rebound of a Jack Skille shot that deflected off defenseman Zbynek Michalek's stick. Fleischmann, one of 14 new players on Florida's roster, scored his first of the season, at 3:16 of the third, snapping off a shot from the edge of the right circle not long after a Florida faceoff win.
James Neal restored that two-goal lead at 4-2 by beating goalie Jose Theodore at 6:39 of the third, his second of the season. Neal had only one goal in 20 games with Pittsburgh after being dealt by Dallas last season.
Before that the Penguins, without both Malkin and Crosby for the 37th time in their last 40 games dating to last season, took a 1-0 lead on Dupuis' first of the season – at 14:57 of the first. They stretched it to 2-0 when Cooke scored his third in five games.
"They play hard, they come hard, they throw everything at the net, they pay the price," Theodore said. "A lot of guys, you've got to give them credit; they pick up the slack because some of their key guys are not there."
Vitale, who began the season on the fourth line, created Dupuis' goal by grabbing the rebound of Kris Letang's shot that struck the end boards and feeding the puck to Dupuis at the side of the net.
Vitale later set up Cooke's goal by fending off defenseman Jason Garrison to make a perfectly placed backhand pass from along the goal line to Cooke.
"I just yelled at Joey to let him know I was there and he made an unbelievable play," Cooke said. "I shot the puck maybe six inches."
Cooke is off to a strong start after being suspended for the final 10 games of last season and all seven Penguins playoff games for elbowing Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the head.
Park's first goal for Pittsburgh since his rookie year in 1995-96 – or five teams ago – came shorthanded on a 20-footer from the slot at 15:21 of the second after Craig Adams forced Campbell to turn over the puck.
The shorthanded goal was the 15th of Park's career; coincidentally, he also scored shorthanded in the Penguins' home opener during his rookie season. Park hadn't scored for any team since March 19, 2010, when he played for the Islanders.
"There are a few more miles on the body since then (the 1995 goal)," Park said. "Trust me, I didn't script that."
Pittsburgh is 13-4 against Florida since the 2007-08 season. The Penguins, playing in a home opener for the fourth consecutive game, began the season by going 2-0-1 during a Western Canada swing to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.