SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Sidney Crosby is tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are tied atop the division.
They certainly impressed the struggling Florida Panthers and their new coach.
Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Penguins over the Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.
Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.
The Penguins have won four straight, scoring 24 goals in the process. Pittsburgh had a 3-0 lead on five shots less than eight minutes in.
“It was nice to start with the lead. It was kind of weird the way things worked out,” Crosby said. “We didn’t have many shots, but we had a few goals right off the bat.”
Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers.
Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses.
“I thought we showed them way too much respect in the beginning of the game. We were back on our heels a little bit,” Rowe said. “Obviously, they’ve got two of the best players in the world and I think it could have intimidated some of our younger guys a little bit.”
The Panthers have lost six of seven.
“It’s a work in progress, I guess,” Rowe said. “We’ve still got a lot of young guys in the lineup.”
Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead on Crosby’s goal 3:06 in. Crosby snapped a wrist shot from above the right circle that got through several Florida defenders and past Luongo.
Crosby is tied with Boston’s David Pastrnak for the NHL lead in goals.
“With us, we knew that they were going to be motivated,” Crosby said. “They’ve played a lot of close games lately, a lot of overtime games. When you get a new coach, everybody is trying to prove themselves. I think we expected a pretty tough game. It was just nice to get that kind of start.”
The Penguins extended their lead to 2-0 on Sheary’s tally. The initial shot by Sheary missed the net, but the puck came off the end boards and into the crease and was inadvertently kicked across the goal line by Luongo at 4:51. Crosby had an assist on the goal.
“(Crosby) is always the guy that takes the lead,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “His line gets us a couple goals early on and gets us the lead and speaks volumes for the leadership he displays night in and night out.”
Pittsburgh stretched the score to 3-0 when Scott Wilson‘s shot from the right circle deflected off Kuhnhackl and into the net at 7:34. The Panthers unsuccessfully challenged the goal, claiming Kuhnhackl interfered with Luongo.
The Panthers closed to 3-1 on Jagr’s power-play goal. Aleksander Barkov passed from below the right circle to Jagr in the slot, and his one-timer beat Murray at 6:17 of the second.
Cullen gave the Penguins a 4-1 lead at 5:48 of the third when he grabbed a rebound in front and put the puck between the pads of Luongo.
Hagelin added an empty-net goal with 32.9 seconds left to make the score 5-1.
Notes: The Penguins have gone 6-0-2 in their past eight games against the Panthers. … The Penguins sent LW Jake Guentzel and D Derrick Pouliot to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. … Jagr has 1,882 points, putting him six behind Mark Messier for second place on the career list. … Panthers C Jonathan Marchessault missed his third game with a lower-body injury. … Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield attended the game.
Penguins: Visit Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
Panthers: Host Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.