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Kunitz, Crosby lead Penguins past Islanders

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- Playing without reigning National Hockey League scoring champion Evgeni Malkin on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Penguins pledged to not change their game.

Of course not. Recently, the Penguins' game involves scoring plenty of goals -- and winning.

Chris Kunitz's second hat trick of the season led Pittsburgh to a 6-1 win against the New York Islanders, extending the Penguins' winning streak to five.

Pittsburgh has its second winning streak of that long since Jan. 31. Even without reigning NHL scoring champion Malkin -- out for the next 1-2 weeks because of an upper-body injury -- the Penguins scored at least three goals for the 12th time in their past 13 and 17th time in their past 20.

"(Malkin) is not a guy we're going to replace. Everyone knows that," captain Sidney Crosby said. "But we don't want to change too much; we know the way we need to play and our identity. I think we did a great job of sticking to it here tonight."

Crosby extended the National Hockey League's longest-active point streak to eight games with five assists, Kris Letang had two assists to match his career-high with a five-game assist streak and James Neal and Pascal Dupuis each scored to extend personal goal streaks to four and three games, respectively.

Crosby matched a career high for assists set Dec. 13, 2006, in posting his ninth game of three-or-more points in his past 17 played. The effort, though, was his first of at least four points in almost a year (March 30, 2012). His most recent five-point game was in the 2009-10 season finale on Long Island.

"The way (Kunitz) is firing the puck right now, he makes all of us look good," Crosby said.

Kunitz had the opposite view of things after the fourth hat trick of his career.

"I get to play with the best player in the world every night – it makes going out and playing a lot of fun," Kunitz said.

Truth is, both Kunitz and Crosby are right. Each is among the League's best players right now, with Crosby (45 points) holding an eight-point lead on Steven Stamkos in the NHL scoring race and Kunitz one point behind Stamkos in third place.

Kunitz lifted his season goal total to 17, tied with Neal and the Los Angeles Kings' Jeff Carter for second in the League.

"Tonight I really didn't have to shoot a puck -- two from right in the crease and one on a rebound," said Kunitz, who added two assists for his first career five-point effort. "I just try to do my job, go to the net, find those areas. The pucks are seeming to find me right


Dupuis posted his second two-goal game in the past 22 days and backup goalie Tomas Vokoun made 23 saves to win for the second time in the past four days for the Penguins (18-8), who lead the Atlantic Division by nine points and trail only the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference standings.

Brad Boyes scored to give him six points in the past five games for New York, which was playing on the road for the first time in 15 days and was coming off a seven-game homestand.

"We just didn't seem to ever get it going," Islanders star John Tavares said. "And obviously, they're a pretty good team."

Since being stifled by the New Jersey Devils Feb. 9-10 (one goal in each of a home-and-home), the Penguins are averaging 4.2 goals per game. The League leader in goals, Pittsburgh has scored 26 times during its current winning streak.

Crosby assisted on each of the goals by linemates Kunitz and Dupuis. Kunitz set up each of Dupuis' tallies, and Letang had the primary assist when both Kunitz and Neal scored 16 seconds apart late in the second to give Pittsburgh a 5-1 lead.

Kunitz's first two goals came during first-period power plays, both tap-ins off passes from Neal. His goal at 13:34 of the second elicited hundreds of sock monkeys to be thrown from the seats onto the ice -- the 265th consecutive Penguins sellout crowd eschewing the traditional hat toss because the puppets were a promotional giveaway to all fans.

Kunitz has never topped 26 goals in a season. He needed 82 games to reach that mark in 2011-12, but is on pace for 31 in this 48-game campaign. His .654 goals per game would lead to 54 goals in a regular 82-game schedule.

"I'm not going to try to describe it," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said of Kunitz's run. "He's not a flashy player, not a guy who goes end-to-end or tries to beat guys 1-on-1. He's straight-line, 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."

Aided by three first-period power plays that helped them gain momentum, the Penguins dominated the opening period. Pittsburgh -- which had lost to the Islanders 4-1 at home in January -- out-shot New York, 12-4, while building a 3-0 lead at the first intermission.

The Islanders had only four shots over the first 28 minutes of the game -- a mere two in the final 26 minutes of that stretch – until Boyes took advantage of Penguins defenseman Simon Despres loosing his footing to score for the sixth time this season.

"You can't get behind to a Stanley Cup team like that 2-or-3-to-nothing," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "And it hurt us.

"Our execution level was not very good tonight."

The Penguins' was much better. Kunitz finished off his hat trick when he slammed home the rebound of a Letang shot five minutes after Boyes' goal, all but assuring that there would be no close finish Sunday. The previous four wins of Pittsburgh's streak all had come by one goal.

"You're always going to have pucks around the net -- it's not an easy place to go there," Crosby said. "But if you go in there consistently, you're going to find rebounds. (Kunitz) has been doing that, and he's been putting them in."

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