PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Chris Kunitz scored for the third straight game and the Pittsburgh Penguins had little trouble with the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 4-2 win on Friday night.
Brandon Sutter, Kris Letang and Jason Megna also scored for Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby recorded an assist to push his point total to an NHL-leading 22. Marc-Andre Fleury made 37 saves and earned his 10th win, tops in the league.
Derek MacKenzie and Ryan Johansen scored for Columbus but the Blue Jackets couldn't match Pittsburgh's firepower. Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky allowed three goals on 13 shots before being pulled early in the second period in favour of backup Curtis McElhinney.
Bobrovsky entered the game 5-1-1 in his last seven games against Pittsburgh, all while playing for Philadelphia. He struggled from the opening faceoff, and his night ended when he mishandled a slap shot from Letang that found its way into the net.
The meeting was the first between the clubs as division rivals. Columbus switched from the Western Conference to the newly created Metropolitan Division in the East, and the quickly improving Blue Jackets are hoping to create a rivalry based on more than pure geography.
Not quite yet.
Though Columbus is the closest NHL city to Pittsburgh, the gulf remains significant. The Penguins have sprinted to the top of the division during the season's first month while Columbus is in a jumbled group that includes Carolina, Washington and the New York Islanders.
That is progress of sorts for the Blue Jackets, and Columbus controlled most of the first period, sending 15 shots at Fleury. It was one of the rare times the Penguins have been on their heels at home.
It didn't last. Kunitz deftly deflected Paul Martin's slap shot from the point for a power-play goal 7:01 into the game. Fleury made it stand up behind a sequence of saves, including three on a penalty kill late in the period.
Pittsburgh gathered itself during the intermission and then took control. Sutter, who had a 17-game goal drought end in a victory over Boston on Wednesday, took a feed from Tanner Glass and worked around Columbus defenceman Jack Johnson before slipping the puck under Bobrovsky's pads to make it 2-0 just 1:10 into the second period.
The Penguins needed less than 2 minutes to push their advantage to 3-0. Letang fired a shot from outside the left circle that Bobrovsky mishandled. The puck slipped between his arm and his chest, and seconds later he was skating to the bench, his night over after just 23 minutes.
McElhinney wasn't even warmed up when Megna tapped in a beautiful backhand pass from Jussi Jokinen for his second career goal 5:34 into the second period.
NOTES: The teams will meet again in Columbus on Saturday. ... The Penguins are 8-1 when scoring first. ... Crosby has at least one point in 12 of Pittsburgh's 14 games. ... Pittsburgh centre Evgeni Malkin recorded two assists but had a second-period goal overturned when replay showed the puck didn't entirely cross the goal line. ... The Blue Jackets scratched D Nikita Nikitin and F Boone Jenner. ... The Penguins scratched D Rob Scuderi (ankle), F Chuck Kobasew (lower body) and F Matt D'Agostini (lower body).
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