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Staal, Penguins rebound to cruise past Oilers

by Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero was unusually candid when he said center Jordan Staal played horribly during a 3-0 loss to Montreal on Saturday.
Shero need not have worried that Staal, usually one of the Penguins' steadiest players, and his teammates would play that way for a second successive day.

Staal was equally effective at both ends of the ice, scoring a goal and setting up the first of Chris Kunitz's two goals, and the Penguins reached the 40-win mark for the fifth consecutive season with a 5-1 victory Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers at Consol Energy Center.

"No question," Staal said when asked if he was bothered by his play Saturday. "All last night and this morning as well. I wasn't feeling all that great with the way I played and I wanted to come out with a better effort ."

Pittsburgh, despite being without captain Sidney Crosby for two-plus months  and Evgeni Malkin for five weeks due to injuries, are 40-22-8 for 88 points -- three fewer than Philadelphia, the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division leader.

Prior to their current streak, the Penguins won as many as 40 games only seven times in their first 38 seasons.

The Penguins are 6-7-4 in their last 17 games, hardly a surge, yet they're staying near the conference leaders due in part to their organizational depth. Tyler Kennedy had three assists, Max Talbot added his eighth goal and Matt Cooke got the second assist on Staal's goal at 18:56 of the second period, Cooke's 300th career point. Zbynek Michalek also got his second goal in three games after going 92 games without one.

The Penguins' 201st consecutive home ice sellout was much different from their 200th, the shutout defeat to Montreal in which they were uncommonly lethargic.

"Jordan was not very pleased," coach Dan Bylsma said. "I know he talked after the game with his linemates and he talked today with me. You don't see many bad games from Jordan Staal and he stepped up today in a big way. We needed a rebound game and he led the way."

The Oilers, last in the NHL with 55 points, dodged being shut out for the second time in three games when Ryan Jones punched a loose puck across the goal line early in the third period to make it 3-1. But they mounted little offense against goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, mustering only two shots in the first period.

Fleury, pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots against Montreal, bounced back by making 28 saves.

"On the way home (Saturday), coach called me and told me I'd be back in there," Fleury said. "So I was happy to not have to think about it too much last night."

The Oilers lost all three of their top scorers -- Taylor Hall, Alex Hemsky and Sam Gagner -- to injuries earlier this month and also are without their top defenseman, ex-Penguin Ryan Whitney. Not surprisingly, they're searching for scoring, with only Jones finding the net with his 16th of the season.

Edmonton was held to two goals during the final four games of a 1-3-1 road trip.

"We came out this game as spectators," coach Tom Renney said. "There were enough in the stands. We didn't have to join them."

The Oilers lost a chance to take the early lead when they couldn't score on a 5-on-3 advantage created by penalties against Alex Kovalev and Paul Martin 14 seconds apart in the first period.

"I thought we lost a little bit of a step, a jump, in the first period, and it kind of carried throughout," Jones said, pointing to Edmonton's 0-for-4 power play. "We lost the special teams battle. Ultimately, that cost us the game."

Less than a minute after the Penguins killed off both penalties, Kunitz -- playing his third game after missing 13 with a lower-body injury -- scored his 19th of the season and first since Feb. 2 against the Islanders.

Staal forced defenseman Tom Gilbert to turn the puck over along the boards, allowing Kennedy to feed it ahead to Kunitz for a backhander between Devan Dubnyk's pads at 19:25.

Talbot, held to a single goal since that Feb. 2 game, made it 2-0 at 6:27 of the second. Pascal Dupuis went to his knees while banking a hard pass off the boards. Talbot switched from his backhand to his forehand twice before wristing the puck past Dubnyk while sliding into the net.

Staal made it a three-goal lead late in the second after Cooke emerged from a four-man scrum behind the net with the puck. Just as Kennedy’s wrist shot was about to trickle over the goal line, Staal pushed it across.

Kunitz assured himself of a third 20-goal season and his first since 2007-08 with Anaheim when he made it 5-1 at 16:11 on a power play. The Penguins are 36-15-4 with Kunitz in their lineup.

"You want to be put in that category. It's something you shoot for every year," Kunitz said of the 20-goal mark.

Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff limped back to the bench after teammate Magnus Paajarvi's slap shot struck him on the left foot from a couple of feet away late in the third period.

"We'll see how he's doing tomorrow. It's bruised or whatever," Renney said. "I don't know how that's going to end up."

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang and Oilers center Gilbert Brule struck helmets while colliding in the third period, and neither player returned. Neither Bylsma nor Renney appeared worried there was an injury.

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