By Will Graves
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH - Matt Cooke is no Sidney Crosby.
At the moment, the Pittsburgh Penguins are hardly complaining.
The noted instigator scored his team-leading third goal of the season in a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night in their home opener. Not bad for a player who has made more headlines for his suspension-inducing hits than his soft hands, though Cooke just laughed when told he is on pace for 61 goals.
"I've learned in the past that these things are streaky," Cooke said. "When you're playing with confidence and you feel good, you get your head up and you make some plays."
On the ice
Next up: Washington at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m.
Pascal Dupuis, James Neal and Richard Park also scored the Penguins, who are off to their best start in 17 seasons despite playing without Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who missed his second straight game with what coach Dan Bylsma called "soreness."
At the moment, the Penguins don't need their superstars.
Pittsburgh improved to 3-0-1 in the season's opening week, the franchise's best start since going unbeaten in its first 13 games in 1994-95.
The Penguins are doing it with contributions from unlikely places. Second-year center Joe Vitale had a pair of assists - double his career total - and Park scored his first goal for Pittsburgh in nearly 16 years.
"In a game that wasn't perfect, and we were a little sloppy at times, we got some big plays from people on the third and fourth lines ... that really put us over the edge," Bylsma said.
The Penguins will take it while Crosby continues his slow recovery from concussion symptoms. He went through a rigorous skate on Tuesday but remains uncertain when he will be cleared for contact.
"Closer than I was yesterday, but I can't give you a date," Crosby said. "I'd love for them to tell me a date I can come back and play, but it's the same."