The Pittsburgh Penguins have quietly claimed the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with an impressive 5-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Washington Capitals have lost four of five while Alex Ovechkin has not been able to score his 700th goal and Pittsburgh has taken advantage with a four-game winning streak.
Sidney Crosby had a goal and three assists as Pittsburgh improved to 6-1-1 following the NHL All-Star break in late January. Bryan Rust had a goal and two assists while Jason Zucker recorded his third goal in four games with Pittsburgh.
Evgeni Malkin took part in warmups prior to the game but was a late scratch due to an illness. Anthony Angello filled in and scored his first career NHL goal.
“The amount of injuries we have had and what we have gone through, different guys have stepped up,” Crosby told Pierre McGuire after his third straight multi-point game. “But our work ethic has stayed consistent all the way through and that’s the identity of our team.”
Crosby helped the Penguins expand their two-goal advantage with contributions on three consecutive goals in the second period. Crosby set up the recently acquired Zucker with a cross-ice pass 2:52 into the middle frame. The Penguins captain would then add a power-play goal and set up Teddy Blueger to put the game out of reach.
Rust opened the scoring when Crosby delivered a perfect pass 11:41 into the first period. Angello redirected a shot from Sam Lafferty with less than three minutes remaining in the opening frame to double Pittsburgh’s lead.
Pittsburgh took a commanding 5-0 lead before Auston Matthews scored his NHL-leading 43rd goal to spoil Tristan Jarry’s shutout bid. Kyle Clifford scored his first goal as a member of the Maple Leafs since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings earlier this month.
Pittsburgh entered the final period with a 5-2 lead and improved to 22-2-1 this season when leading after 40 minutes.
Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen has been dreadful since an injury forced him to miss four games earlier this month. The netminder has allowed 13 goals in three straight losses since returning to the lineup.
The Maple Leafs entered the season with hopes of competing for the Atlantic Division title. The Stanley Cup Playoffs were initially a given for a such a talented roster, but Toronto has only a slim two-point advantage on the Florida Panthers.
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Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.