PITTSBURGH -- The Penguins played Sunday night without star center Evgeni Malkin, but Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby picked up the slack, each enjoying a five-point night as Pittsburgh manhandled the New York Islanders 6-1.
Kunitz finished with three goals and two assists, and Crosby added five assists. "I get to play with the best player in the world every night. It makes going out and playing a lot of fun," said Kunitz of Crosby.
The Penguins opened the scoring at 7:10 of the first when Pascal Dupuis one-timed a Kunitz pass from a bad angle along the goal line. The puck caromed off the inside of the right leg pad of Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov and dribbled into the net. Crosby also picked up an assist on the goal to extend his league-best point streak to eight and increase his NHL scoring lead.
The Penguins struck again at 13:46 to go up 2-0, this time while on the power play. Just as the first penalty of a five-on-three expired, Kunitz was able to tap in a James Neal pass from right on the doorstep. The Islanders still only had three defenders on the ice at the time, and none of them was able to tie up Kunitz's stick.
"The way (Kunitz) is firing the puck right now; he makes all of us look good by just putting the puck in the net the way he is doing," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
The trio of Kunitz, Neal, and Crosby hooked up again on the power play less than three minutes later when Kunitz finished off a Neal backhand pass as they both came with speed down the slot toward the net. The Penguins took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission.
"You can't get behind to a Stanley Cup team like that two, three nothing," said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano.
The Islanders opened the scoring in the second, taking advantage of a Pittsburgh mishap. Penguins defenseman Simon Despres fell down at the blue line, which lead to a two-on-one rush. Brad Boyes kept the puck instead of passing, and he wristed a laser past the glove hand of Penguins netminder Tomas Vokoun for his sixth of the season at 8:07 of the second period.
Any momentum gained by that goal was short-lived, however.
Just over five minutes later, Kunitz completed his hat trick when he pounced on a juicy rebound off Nabokov's pads to put the Penguins up 4-1.
"He's straight-line, real simple in how he plays; he goes to the front of the net," said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. "Right now, he's finding the back of the net over and over again."
The goal was Kunitz's 17th on the season, passing Neal for the team lead. Neal evened the count just 16 seconds later. He found himself all alone on a breakaway, and he snapped the puck past Nabokov for his 17th tally of the season.
The Islanders pulled Nabokov and inserted Kevin Poulin to begin the third, but the result was more of the same. Dupuis picked up his second goal of the night, completing a tic-tac-toe passing play that originated with Kunitz and ended with Crosby tapping the puck across the slot to Dupuis, who was parked, unobstructed, in front of the Islanders' net. "We made it too easy for them," said Islanders center Frans Nielsen.
Vokoun stopped 23 of 24 shots for the win.
Nabokov made just 12 saves on 17 shots, while Poulin saved 10 of the 11 shots he faced.
NOTES: Crosby has recorded at least one assist in eight consecutive games, one shy of his career high. ... Islanders right wing Michael Grabner played in his 200th career game. ... Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is one shutout shy of a franchise record with 23. ... Nabokov has started all but four of the Islanders' games this season. ... Scratches for the Penguins were Malkin (upper-body injury), defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, and defenseman Deryk Engelland. For the Islanders, center Keith Aucoin, left wing Eric Boulton, and defenseman Joe Finley were scratched. ... The Penguins next play on Tuesday when they host the Boston Bruins. The Islanders are next in action on Thursday against the Lightning in Tampa Bay.