The Pittsburgh Penguins
are ready for the Washington Capitals.
The Penguins tuned up for their first meeting of the season with Alex Ovechkin and the Caps by disposing of the Florida Panthers 5-2 at the Consol Energy Center. After the game, they hopped on a plane for Thursday night's game at the Verizon Center, a warmup for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field eight days later.
Sidney Crosby certainly looked ready. Crosby matched the second-longest NHL scoring streak in 18 years when he scored 7:44 into the game, giving him at least one point in 22 consecutive games. He scored for the 22nd time during the streak and the 28th time this season when he beat Tomas Vokoun to the far side with a slap shot from the left circle.
That was Crosby's lone point -- his 43rd during the streak -- but rookie defenseman Ben Lovejoy had his first career goal and Mark Letestu, Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis also scored for Pittsburgh. The Penguins have has won 14 of its past 16, including convincing wins against Phoenix and Florida after a two-game losing streak last week.
Stephen Weiss and Bryan McCabe scored for Florida, which had won five of its previous seven.
Crosby's streak matched Dany Heatley's in 2005 as the longest in the NHL in the last five years. Mats Sundin, then with the Quebec Nordiques, had points in 30 consecutive games during the 1992-93 season.
The Penguins came out strong early Wednesday, successfully resisting the urge to look ahead to a showdown at the rival Washington Capitals on Thursday in a preview of the Winter Classic to be played at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field on Jan 1.
"The last few games we have done a pretty good job of starting well and creating a lot of pressure and generating a lot of shots early," said Crosby, whose goal gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead that they never relinquished with his 28th goal and 58th point -- both tops in the League.
Despite the win, Crosby said the Penguins could have been better.
"The last couple periods of this one weren't our greatest," he said. "We had the lead but we probably could have done a better job- I think partly mainly because we're thinking about tomorrow."
Letestu scored 90 seconds into the game during a rush with linemates Tyler Kennedy and Chris Conner, taking a pass from Kennedy while skating in from the right slot and outwaiting Vokoun before tucking the puck in behind him for his seventh of the season. Weiss tied it 73 seconds later on a soft wrist shot from the left circle that got between backup goalie Brent Johnson's glove hand and body.
That was the Panthers' first shot of the game. Johnson would stop the last 20 he faced -- but left after two periods due to a lower-body injury. Marc-Andre Fleury was also tested in the third period; the Panthers outshot Pittsburgh 29-17 in the last 40 minutes.
"We made it a lot closer than we needed it to be," Crosby said. "Partly because, I think, knowing that we play tomorrow night. I'm sure guys might have been secretly trying to save a little bit."
Goals by Crosby and Cooke in a 3:13 span sent Vokoun to the bench. After Crosby put the Penguins ahead, Cooke made it 3-1 at 10:57 when he picked up a loose puck in the slot off a rebound of a Max Talbot shot and beat Vokoun for his seventh of the season. Evgeni Malkin got the second assist on the play, giving him at least a point in four consecutive games since missing four with a knee injury.
"To spot a team three goals - any team - before you kind of get your game going, it's tough, let alone against these guys," said Scott Clemmensen, who replaced Vokoun after Cooke's goal. "It just became too much for us to climb out of."
Lovejoy's first goal in 31 career games was an unassisted tally 6:19 into the second. He did not play the final 3:46 after a slap shot by McCabe struck him just below the left eye 10 seconds before McCabe's similar-looking shot from the left point produced a goal, his fifth, that made it 4-2 before Dupuis' empty-netter iced the win.
"It was a big night," Lovejoy said after taking several stitches. "Certainly a fun game. It would've been nicer to not get that puck in the face, but it's fun to score."
Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said the Penguins' fast start was more than his team could handle.
"The game was over in the first 10 minutes," DeBoer said.
"They're a great team and obviously Crosby is a great player. I'm just disappointed we didn't give them more of a game."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report