PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby scored twice to move into a tie for the NHL lead with 37, Carter Rowney added the first goal of his NHL career and the short-handed Pittsburgh Penguins beat the New Jersey Devils 6-4 Friday night.
Crosby added an assist to give him 640 in his career and move him into a tie with Jaromir Jagr for the second-most in franchise history. Nick Bonino, Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel also scored for Pittsburgh as the Penguins leapfrogged Columbus to move into second-place behind Washington in the Metropolitan Division.
Matt Murray stopped 32 shots for Pittsburgh as the Penguins relied on Crosby and some fresh faces to overcome the loss of Evgeni Malkin, who is out with an upper-body injury.
Kyle Palmieri matched Crosby with two goals for New Jersey. Stefan Noesen and Beau Bennett also scored for the Devils. Keith Kinkaid finished with 37 saves but New Jersey fell to 0-4 against the defending Stanley Cup champions this season.
The Penguins have hung around in the heated race for the top spot in the NHL’s toughest division despite a series of injuries that only seems to be picking up speed as the end of the regular season draws near. Ron Hainsey, acquired from Carolina just before the trade deadline last month to provide needed depth and a healthy body along the blue line instead joined fellow defensemen Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley and Kris Letang in street clothes after suffering an upper body injury in a loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday and is “week to week” according to coach Mike Sullivan.
While all four are expected back by the time the playoffs begin, for now the defending Stanley Cup champions are being forced to get by with a makeshift bunch that includes talented but flawed youngster Derrick Pouliot and Chad Ruhwedel.
Malkin’s upper-body issue is more of the “day to day” variety and the Penguins managed just fine without the NHL’s fifth-leading scorer.
Of course, having Crosby helps.
The captain always tends to raise his level of play when Malkin is sidelined and when Crosby slammed home a one-timer off a pretty pass from Mark Streit that gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead late in the first period, it gave him 42 goals in 101 career games with Malkin’s familiar No. 71 out of the lineup.
Bonino pushed Pittsburgh’s advantage to 4-2 late in the second period before Bennett, a longtime Penguin who joined New Jersey after a handful of star-crossed years in Pittsburgh, put home a rebound with 51 seconds left in the second and the Devils were again within one.
Enter Rowney, a 27-year-old rookie who has slowly worked his way from undrafted free agent in 2013 all the way to the NHL. He took a feed from Tom Kuhnhackl and skated in front for the crease, patiently waiting for Kinkaid to commit before flipping it into the open net 5:27 into the third.
Palmieri’s 10th goal in his last 12 games trimmed the deficit to 5-4 with less than 4 minutes left but Crosby’s empty netter sealed it.
Notes: Kessel’s goal was his first since Feb. 16. He missed a chance at adding to that total when Kinkaid stopped him on a penalty shot in the second period. ... Pittsburgh’s 28 home wins are tied with Washington for most in the NHL. ... New Jersey F Devante Smith-Pelly missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Both teams were 1 for 4 on the power play. ... Mario Lemieux is Pittsburgh’s all-time leader in career assists with 1,033.
Up next: Devils: Host Columbus Sunday. The Blue Jackets have taken two of the three meetings this season.
Penguins: Host Florida on Sunday. Pittsburgh is 2-0 against the Panthers this season.