Penguins maintain impressive pace
James Neal scores three goals and adds two assists as Pittsburgh defeats Columbus and improves to 29-11-1.
THE PITTSBURGH Penguins are on a record pace halfway through the season.
Imagine what they might do if they get healthy.
James Neal scored three times and had two assists, and Sidney Crosby added the go-ahead goal and set up two other tallies to lead the visiting Penguins past the Columbus Blue Jackets last night, 5-3.
"With the injuries we've had, the guys have come in, and the job they've done is a big reason why we've had a decent first half," Crosby said after the Penguins improved to 29-11-1. "We were at a point where we started to lose guys and it could have gone either way. But we've found a way to survive."
Not only survive, but flourish.
Their 29 wins eclipsed the previous franchise record for victories through 41 games, snapping a tie with the 1992-93 team that won a franchise-record 56 games and the Stanley Cup.
The Penguins' 59 points are just one behind that team that was led by Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. The Penguins are on pace for a 58-22-2 record - again just a point behind the club mark of 119 put up by the '92-93 team.
The Penguins have done it despite losing defensemen Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang and Paul Martin for extended stretches, along with forwards Pascal Dupuis, Chuck Kobasew and superstar Evgeni Malkin, along with backup goalie Tomas Vokoun.
"The one thing about our team, especially over the last 25 games, we've won as a team," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We've found ways to win. Different guys have been stepping up."
Chris Kunitz added his 21st goal and two assists, and Jeff Zatkoff made 25 saves for the Penguins, who have won all four meetings with Columbus this season.
In other games
* At Buffalo, Ryan Miller made 49 saves to carry the Sabres to a 2-1 shootout win over Washington.
Drew Stafford netted Buffalo's goal in regulation, and Steve Ott scored the lone shootout goal in the sixth round as the Sabres improved to 5-0-1 in their last six home games after starting 3-12-1 there.
Miller stopped all six Washington shootout attempts.
* At Sunrise, Fla., Brian Campbell, Aleksander Barkov and Dmitry Kulikov all scored in Florida's 4-1 win over Montreal.
Sean Bergenheim added an empty-net goal with 17 seconds left. Tom Gilbert had two assists. Kulikov's goal was his first in 28 games.
The Canadiens had two goals disallowed.
* At Dallas, Kevin Shattenkirk scored a power-play goal 4:49 into overtime, giving St. Louis a 3-2 victory over the Stars.
Jaden Schwartz had a goal in his fifth straight game, and T.J. Oshie also scored for the Blues, who improved to 12-0-1 against Central Division opponents.
* At Tampa, Henrik Lundqvist made 37 saves in his first start in four games, and Mats Zuccarello had a goal and two assists in the New York Rangers' 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lundqvist watched from the bench as backup Cam Talbot started the previous three games, winning two, after Lundqvist struggled through a 1-4-2 stretch.
Rick Nash, Chris Kreider and Benoit Pouliot also scored for the Rangers, who had three power-play goals.
* At Toronto, Phil Kessel scored twice, reaching the 20-goal plateau for the sixth straight season, to help the Maple Leafs beat the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-2.
Jonathan Bernier made 41 saves as Carolina outshot Toronto, 43-27.
* At Calgary, Jannik Hansen scored the winning goal, and rookie goalie Eddie Lack made 18 saves to lead the Vancouver Canucks to a 2-0 victory over the Flames.
Vancouver took the lead in the final minute of the first period on a terrific breakaway pass from Henrik Sedin and an even better finish by the speedy Hansen.
* At St. Paul, Minn., Kyle Okposo scored twice midway through the third period, and the New York Islanders overcame a three-goal deficit to beat the Minnesota Wild, 5-4.
John Tavares, Cal Clutterbuck and Thomas Hickey also scored for the Islanders, who won for the third time in eight games.
* At Denver, Blake Wheeler scored at 4:58 of overtime and the Winnipeg Jets beat the slumping Colorado Avalanche, 2-1.
Colorado has lost four in a row.