Crosby gets 800th; Penguins snap skid
Rust has hat trick
PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby’s march to 800 career assists slowed to a crawl in recent weeks. So did his team’s momentum after a stirring — if brief — sprint to the top of the Metropolitan Division.
So forgive the Penguins captain if he was more relieved than elated after reaching the plateau during a 7-3 win over Ottawa on Tuesday night that snapped the franchise’s longest losing streak in eight years.
“It’s a nice number,” Crosby said in typically understated fashion. “I mean, it took long enough here.”
Well, not really. It just felt that way.
Crosby reached the mark in his 980th game, the sixth-fastest player in history to get there. Yet he’d gone without an assist since a victory over Toronto on Feb. 18, an extended funk that coincided with a six-game slide that dropped the Penguins off the pace in the NHL’s most competitive division. Crosby shouldered the blame following a 5-0 blowout in San Jose on Saturday night that capped a nightmarish California swing, saying he needed to do more.
And so Crosby did more, picking up his 14th goal of the season in the second period and setting up Bryan Rust in the first period and Jason Zucker in the third period to become the 32nd player in league history to reach 800 assists.
“Any time a captain and a player of Sid’s caliber takes ownership like that, I think it inspires the rest of the group to want to play for him,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said.
Crosby received plenty of help. Rust collected his third career hat trick when he beat Craig Anderson twice in the third period. Zucker now has six goals since arriving in a trade from Minnesota last month, and John Marino celebrated his return following an 11-game absence by scoring 48 seconds into the first period to give the Penguins a needed early jolt. Conor Sheary scored off a fortunate bounce less than a minute after Marino’s goal to give Pittsburgh a lead it would never relinquish.
“I think what’s most important is that we stuck to our game early on and we came out with a lot of energy and able to score the first couple goals,” Marino said. “That’s huge for us. Going forward if we’re able to do that, then most of the time we’ll come out on top and keep that lead.”
Jayce Hawryluk, Brady Tkachuk and Connor Brown scored for the Senators but Ottawa couldn’t keep pace with the Penguins, who began a crucial stretch by regaining some of the momentum they lost during their longest losing streak since 2012.
“We did it to ourselves, I think,” Tkachuk said. “In the third there, we let (Anderson) out to dry, and that can’t ever happen. He’s been great for us all year. All our goalies have. It’s unfortunate the way we ended. That’s going to be something we learn from.”