PITTSBURGH (AP) – Sidney Crosby scored twice, Bryan Rust scored for the second straight game and the Pittsburgh Penguins pulled away from the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 on Tuesday night.
Crosby increased his goal total to 15 by beating Elvis Merzlikins twice in the second period as the Penguins remained unbeaten against Columbus in the Blue Jackets’ last 12 visits to PPG Paints Arena. Teddy Blueger added a late goal against Merzlikins, a teammate of Blueger’s playing for the Latvian national team, who fouled Blueger early on in the penalty box.
Tristan Jarry gave Johnny Gaudreau a goal a minute into the game, but he quickly settled down. Jarry finished with 38 saves to improve to 5-0 against Columbus.
Gaudreau’s ninth goal gave the Blue Jackets an early boost, but the Penguins overcame Merzlikins, who stopped 30 shots but still fell to 0-5 in his career against Pittsburgh, in the final two periods.
The Penguins have won three straight, all without star defenseman Kris Letang, who was sidelined after suffering a stroke on Nov. 28. Letang skated alone Tuesday morning, but there is no timetable for a possible return.
Pittsburgh is 8-1-1 in its last 10 games and 10-2-2 after a seven-game losing streak in late October and early November that briefly dropped the club in the standings. The Penguins settled in behind Crosby and Jarry, who hadn’t lost in regulation in a month.
While Pittsburgh rises, the Blue Jackets fall. Columbus has dropped five of six thanks largely to a forward who struggles to find the back of the net. The Blue Jackets have scored more than two goals or less in each of the losses.
Gaudreau’s sharp shot from the left circle after 60 seconds appeared to catch Jarry by surprise. However, this did little to wake up his teammates. Columbus controlled the game for most of the first period.
It didn’t take long for the Penguins to reassert themselves in the second. Rust, who went to the locker room late in the first period with an undisclosed issue, headed home a jumper 1:15 into the second for his second goal in as many games after managing just one in the previous 14.
Crosby gave the Penguins the lead 47 seconds later when he raced to the slot and put in a rebound off Jake Guentzel’s shot. Crosby made it 3-1 just after the midway mark when he got on the right post and Guentzel’s pass essentially deflected it into the net for his second multi-goal game of the season.
35-year-old Crosby’s 15 goals are already almost half of the 31 he scored last season, and he is on pace for 47 goals. He hasn’t scored more than 35 goals in a season since leading the league with 44 in 2016-17.
Blue Jackets: Host Buffalo on Wednesday.
Penguins: Start the game at home with Buffalo on Friday when they visit the Sabres.
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