PITTSBURGH -- Only about 190 miles and approximately three hours separate Pittsburgh from Columbus, but in the Metropolitan Division standings, the Penguins and Blue Jackets are worlds apart.
The gap grew wider Monday when the NHL's two leading scorers, centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, each contributed a goal in the Penguins' 2-1 win over the Blue Jackets at Consol Energy Center
The first-place Penguins now hold a 16-point lead on the seventh-place Blue Jackets.
"It was a hard-fought game, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. "They came at us, they bring pucks to the net. They did a good job, and our defense was tested as a result."
Although the division rivalry is new, the story remains the same for the Blue Jackets. Pittsburgh improved to 8-1-1 its past 10 games against Columbus, including 3-0 this season.
"You never want to go 0-3 against a division rival," Columbus left winger Matt Calvert said. "They're four-point games, and you lose a lot of points in the race."
The lineups that the Penguins and Blue Jackets put on the ice bore little resemblance to their opening-night rosters. In fact, the teams were without players making more than $46.6 million due to injury or suspension.
For Pittsburgh, among the notable names missing were left winger James Neal, suspended for five games, and defenseman Brooks Orpik, placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. For Columbus, right winger Marian Gaborik and last year's Vezina Trophy winner as top goaltender in the NHL, Sergei Bobrovsky, will be missing for at least the next four weeks.
After a scoreless first period, Malkin took matters into his own hands early in the second by scoring a video-game-like goal.
After corralling a cross-ice pass from left winger Jussi Jokinen in the neutral zone, Malkin busted down the right wing with speed, muscled his way around Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin, put the puck on his backhand, avoided the pokecheck of goaltender Curtis McElhinney, then stuffed the puck into the left side of the net to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.
"He finds ways to put the puck in the net regardless of the pressure or what the goalie is doing to him," McElhinney said of Malkin.
The goal came at 4:16 and gave Malkin at least one point in seven career games against Columbus. Malkin missed Pittsburgh's previous two games due to a lower-body injury.
The Penguins' second goal was far less spectacular. Left winger Pascal Dupuis, positioned near the goal line, threw a shot wildly toward the net that hit off of the equipment of Crosby and deflected into the net at 8:52 of the third.
"I had some really pretty chances that didn't go in," Crosby said. "That second (goal) ended up being important for us."
Less than 30 seconds after Crosby's goal, a scrum ensued that saw coincidental roughing calls to Pittsburgh defenseman Simon Despres and Columbus center Derek MacKenzie, as well as 10-minute misconducts to Columbus center Brandon Dubinsky and Pittsburgh defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. Dubinsky also received a game misconduct for something he said to the officials.
"In a critical game with the score the way it is, that's a guy that we need on the bench so we can get him out on the ice," Columbus coach Todd Richards said.
The Blue Jackets finally solved Marc-Andre Fleury with less than a minute left in the game and shortly after Fleury narrowly missed an attempt at shooting into the empty net. Calvert took a pass from center Mark Letestu and easily tapped it past Fleury from in tight, but it proved to be too little, too late.
"It was just like a slap in the face, disappointed to not get a goal and then right away they score," joked Fleury, who made 32 saves to earn his 17th win.
McElhinney turned aside 28 Pittsburgh shots.
NOTES: The Penguins recalled D Brian Dumoulin from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. ... The Blue Jackets recalled D Tim Erixon from AHL Springfield. ... The NHL announced Monday that Pittsburgh LW James Neal was suspended five games without pay for kneeing Boston Bruins F Brad Marchand on Dec. 7. ... Going into Monday's action, Columbus allowed the fewest giveaways (165) in the Eastern Conference. ... Scratches for the Penguins were Neal, Dumoulin and LW Harry Zolnierczyk. Scratches for the Blue Jackets were RW Jack Skille, D Tim Erixon and D James Wisniewski (upper-body injury). ... Pittsburgh is next in action on Friday when it hosts the New Jersey Devils. Columbus will host New Jersey on Tuesday. ... The official attendance was 18,520.