PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Penguins returned to form on Friday.
After managing one goal in each of the past three games and spotting the Nashville Predators an early 1-0 lead, the Penguins scored four unanswered goals and rolled to a 4-1 win at Consol Energy Center.
James Neal put the Penguins ahead to stay when he scored his first goal of the season at 15:56 of the opening period. On the Penguins' second power play of the game, Neal deflected Evgeni Malkin's slap shot past Marek Mazanec to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead. Neal, a 40-goal scorer in 2011-12, has two points in four games after missing 15 games due to an upper-body injury suffered in Pittsburgh's season-opener against the New Jersey Devils.
"Geno [Malkin] made a good play on the power play there to shoot for my stick," Neal said. "Ever since I've got back, I've felt really good. We're just going to continue to get better here and Geno had some great chances again tonight and he had some great passes. We had some good looks."
The Predators finished 2-4-1 on a seven-game, 17-day road trip. They started 2-0-1 but lost the last four games by a combined score of 17-2.
"We're doing it to ourselves," said Predators coach Barry Trotz, whose team returns home to host the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. "We're probably not the most confident group right now and that shows, but that's tough. Sometime you're going to go through a little bit of hell in regular life or in sports. We've only scored two goals in four games, and I can't ask Pekka Rinne, I can't ask Martin Brodeur, to throw a shutout every night.
"There's a group of guys in there that have to give us more, plain and simple. We have too many guys that when it gets tough, they're feeling sorry for themselves. Well, I don't feel sorry for anybody right now."
Malkin nearly connected with Neal for a second goal 5:43 into the second when he brought the puck out from behind the net and flicked a pass across the crease onto Neal's tape. Neal redirected the puck on goal, but Mazanec stretched to make a glove save that maintained the Predators' one-goal deficit.
But the deficit was stretched to three by the end of the period.
Kris Letang, who did not participate in Pittsburgh's morning skate Friday due to an illness, made it 3-1 with his fourth goal of the season off a setup by Malkin and Neal at 7:58. Malkin, who has not scored a goal in his past 12 games, is on a six-game assist streak (seven assists).
"I thought the second, we really took over the game shift after shift and played in the offensive zone," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think maybe just getting surprised by the goalie's save on James Neal there, but you hold a team to 18 shots or below 20 shots in a game, you're not giving up much either."
Brandon Sutter scored Pittsburgh's fourth goal by snapping a shot past Patric Hornqvist and over Mazanec's left shoulder with 1:23left in the period. Carter Hutton replaced Mazanec, who allowed four goals on 25 shots, to start the third period.
The Penguins outshot Nashville 23-9 over a 30:20 stretch from midway through the first period and through the end of the second. Eric Nystrom attempted to spark the Predators by fighting Tanner Glass, but Nystrom needed to be escorted down the runway following the fight and did not return with an upper-body injury.
Nystrom will be reevaluated on Saturday.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who had lost three consecutive starts despite surrendering two goals to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday and the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, made 17 saves for his 11th win of the season.
Pittsburgh's evening didn't get off to a good start.
Gabriel Bourque's second goal of the season gave Nashville a 1-0 lead 2:28 into the game. Kevin Klein's slap shot grazed Bourque after deflecting off Malkin's stick and defenseman Olli Maatta's skate and went past Fleury.
The Predators shut down the Penguins in the first half of the period. Nashville held a 6-2 shot advantage through the first 10:20, but could not maintain their play through the rest of the period.
"We started the way we wanted," Nashville captain Shea Weber said. "We came out and got a goal, but we weren't good enough. Our special teams weren't good enough. We're still giving up too many chances and we keep doing it to ourselves."
Pittsburgh pressured Nashville's forwards during the period's final nine minutes and finished with a 10-9 advantage in shots. Pascal Dupuis ended his 12-game goal drought with a one-time shot directly off of Sutter's faceoff win to tie the game at 12:36. Dupuis hadn't scored a goal since the first period of Pittsburgh's 3-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 15.
"They [pucks] were going in," Dupuis said. "Every practice, the faceoff is one of those things we go through and sometimes they don't work out the way you plan them and this one happened to go in."