The Pittsburgh Penguins are not only getting goals and big plays from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Defenseman Justin Schultz is creating a stir in a torrid December.
Crosby scored a goal for the fourth straight game and added two assists, Malkin had a goal and an assist in becoming the fourth Penguin to collect 800 points, and Schultz scored the go-ahead goal with 5.4 seconds left in the second period on a play set up Pittsburgh's big two in a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.
"I've said it all along, those guys drive this team and when they are playing the type of hockey they are playing right now they are inspiring," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Crosby and Malkin. "That's the word that comes to mind. Our top players right now are playing inspiring hockey. It starts with those two guys, but it does not end there."
Schultz is the unexpected player who has stepped up with fellow defenseman Kris Letang and Trevor Daley sidelined. The 26-year old now has seven goals and 15 assists this season, with six goals and 10 assists this month when Pittsburgh has posted a 10-1-2 mark.
"We're certainly encouraged by his play," Sullivan said. "He seems to be getting better with each game he plays. I think his confidence level is at an all-time high."
The go-ahead goal with the teams skating four on four was clear evidence of that. Crosby fed Malkin just into the Devils' blue line. The big forward dropped a pass to Schultz for a shot that beat Cory Schneider high to his stick side.
"It's good to have the confidence," said Schultz, who thought about going to the bench with 10 seconds left in the period. "I don't think I expected it to go in, goaltenders are always going to make saves, but I was lucky enough to find some room."
"Schultzie is hot now," Malkin said. "It's like every shot he is dangerous."
Marc-Andre Fleury had 21 saves as the Penguins beat the Devils for the second time in five nights, and the third time in three games this season. Carl Hagelin and Bryan Rust added insurance goals in the third period.
PA Parenteau and Adam Henrique scored for the slumping Devils, who are 1-8-1 in their last 10. Schneider had 22 saves.
"Late goal in second, 3-2 and you would have thought the game was over," a frustrated Schneider said. "You would have thought it was 5-1 at that point ... just didn't see the urgency from everyone to really want to tie that game. We've got to take some pride in not giving up four or five a night, and we have to bear down and believe we can come back in these games."
The Penguins rallied from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 and killed off six of seven power plays to beat the Devils for only the third time (3-7) at the Prudential Center since 2012-13.
Crosby set up Malkin on a power play for his 15th goal, and 800th point of his career at 6:43 of the first period.
"It's a good number," Malkin said.
Henrique put the Devils ahead a little less than two minutes later with a shot into an open net on a power play after a shot deflected to him in the right circle.
Crosby scored his league-leading 25th goal to tie the game midway through the second period on a great effort by Conor Sheary. He beat Henrique skating down the left wing, got the rebound of his own shot and fed Crosby, whose goal streak matches his season high.
Hagelin scored on a breakaway early in the third period and Rust scored late into an empty net.
Taylor Hall had given the Devils the lead at 1:18, setting up Parenteau for a shot into an open net.
NOTES: Crosby has 41 points in 30 games (25 goals, 16 assists). Malkin also has 41 points in 36 games (15-26). ... Devils D Yohann Auvitu was a healthy scratch after being recalled from Albany (AHL) Monday. ... Penguins RW Patric Hornqvist hit the post less than a minute before Parenteau opened the scoring. ... The loss was only the Devils' third at home in regulation this season (9-3-2). ... Pittsburgh is 13-0 when leading after two periods this year, and 52-0 over the past two years.
Penguins: Host Carolina on Thursday to open three-game homestand.
Devils: at Washington Thursday.