PENGUINS 4, PREDATORS 1: Pens break out of slump
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The star-studded, but dormant, Pittsburgh Penguins offense woke up just in time to snap a losing streak.
James Neal and Brandon Sutter each had a goal and an assist, and the Penguins won for the first time in four games, 4-1 over the Nashville Predators on Friday night.
Pittsburgh scored one goal in each game during the losing streak. The Penguins scored four times for the second time in their past 11 games in improving to 8-3 at home.
“I think we had as many — if not more — chances last game and we couldn’t find the back of the net, but tonight it felt good to get on the board,” Neal said. “After we got the first goal, we started rolling and we didn’t look back.”
Playing in his fourth game of the season because of an upper-body injury, Neal — a former 40-goal scorer — netted his first of the season late in the first period to give the Penguins a lead they didn’t relinquish against the road-weary Predators.
Nashville lost the final four of a franchise-record, 17-day, seven-game trip. Gabriel Bourque scored 2:28 in but the Predators were held to one or fewer goals for the fourth consecutive game.
“This was just a frustrating game all the way around,” said Predators center Mike Fisher, who returned after missing four games because of a lower-body injury. “We’ve got to be much better. I’ve got to be much better, and we’ve got to find ways to score here. It’s not acceptable.”
Pascal Dupuis and Kris Letang also scored, and Evgeni Malkin extended his point streak to six with two assists. Marc-Andre Fleury made 17 saves.
The Penguins, who have held opponents under three goals in seven of eight games, had a 33-18 advantage in shots.
“It was one of those games where we knew it was a matter of time,” Dupuis said. “We were going to play the 60 minutes the way we wanted to play. That’s what it looked like tonight.”
Nashville, which entered 7-0-2 when scoring first, couldn’t take advantage of an early lead. Bourque shoved a puck past Fleury after it had deflected off Malkin’s stick and Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta’s skate after Kevin Klein’s shot from the point.
Bourque, who scored his second of the season, missed Nashville’s previous game because of the birth of his first child.
That lead lasted just 10 minutes before Dupuis and Neal scored 2:20 apart to put the Penguins in front in the first period.
“The guys played an awesome game after that (Nashville goal),” Fleury said. “We dominated the game.”
Dupuis’ second of the season — a rising slap shot from the top of the left circle off a set faceoff play — came at 12:36, shortly after Nashville killed a penalty for too many men on the ice.
But with the Predators’ Ryan Ellis off for interference minutes later, Neal got a piece of Malkin’s slap shot from the point while he stood in front of rookie goalie Marek Mazanec.
Mazanec, 22, made his NHL debut a week earlier and had his first career start Tuesday. He stopped 21 of 25 shots in two periods, and fellow rookie Carter Hutton played the third.
Mazanec made a spectacular glove save on Neal early in the second period, but Letang made it 3-1 with his fourth of the season at 7:58.
“It’ll be good to get home,” Fisher said. “It’s always tough to come off a long roadie, but obviously we’re all looking forward to getting home. That’s the longest trip I’ve ever had.”
After skipping the morning skate because of illness, Letang scored off a feed from Malkin. Sutter made it 4-1 with 1:23 left in the second.
“The second (period), we really took over the game,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “Shift after shift, we played in the offensive zone.”
Nashville’s Eric Nystrom was knocked out of the game by a punch to the head during a fight with Tanner Glass late in the second period. Bloodied from a cut on his forehead, Nystrom needed assistance and wobbled to the dressing room. He didn’t return to the game.
The previous time Nystrom played against the Penguins on Feb. 29, 2012, he delivered a controversial hit to the head of Letang, and the Pittsburgh defenseman was out of the lineup for two weeks.
Then with the Dallas Stars, Nystrom was given a roughing penalty but wasn’t disciplined further by the NHL. Glass wasn’t with the Penguins then.
Nystrom wasn’t available for comment after the game, but about an hour after it ended he tweeted, “All good folks. Got popped behind the earhole! Weird spot. Appreciate the concern n support!!”
NOTES: Pirates manager Clint Hurdle received a long ovation when he was recognized on the video board for being named the National League manager of the year this week. After the game, he was in the Penguins locker room accompanying his young son, who was celebrating a birthday and collecting autographs. ... Penguins defenseman Paul Martin returned after missing two games because of a lower-body injury. ... The game was the 600th for Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz and the 200th for Pittsburgh defenseman Deryk Engelland. ... Kunitz had gone more than 19 months since last being held consecutive games without a point. He was pointless for the third straight game.