Pittsburgh, PA – While the Pittsburgh Penguins may again be without Evgeni Malkin for a period of time, their performance against the New York Islanders clearly demonstrated they can withstand the absence of the reigning league MVP.
Chris Kunitz registered the fourth hat trick of his career and tallied a personal-best five points, leading an offensive onslaught that carried the Pens to a 6-1 throttling of the New York Islanders for their fifth straight win.
Pittsburgh also received big efforts from a few others with Malkin sitting out the contest after suffering an upper-body injury in Saturday's 5-4 shootout victory over Toronto. Sidney Crosby assisted on five of the Penguins' six goals, including a pair of markers from Pascal Dupuis, while James Neal posted a goal and two helpers in the rout.
"We have a great team," said Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun. "We've just got play the way we need to play to win. When we do that, it's hard to play with us. We didn't even have Geno today and look at what we did."
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said prior to the game that Malkin's injury is unrelated to the concussion that sidelined him for four straight outings earlier this season, though he revealed afterward that the reigning Hart Trophy recipient would likely be out between 1-to-2 weeks.
Vokoun stopped 23-of-24 shots to help Pittsburgh match its longest win streak of the season.
Brad Boyes had the lone goal for New York, which had a string of five consecutive tests with at least one point end. Evgeni Nabokov made just 12 saves on 17 chances before being pulled in favor of Kevin Poulin to begin the third period.
Kunitz scored twice during a first period dominated by the Penguins, who put up three unanswered goals to move in front comfortably.
Dupuis started things with a tough-angle shot from the right corner that hit the post and trickled through Nabokov's legs 7:10 after the initial faceoff. Kunitz made it 2-0 with 6:14 left in the frame on a Pittsburgh power play, knocking home Neal's centering pass from close range after Crosby cycled the puck deep in the New York zone.
"Our discipline wasn't really good," said Isles head coach Jack Capuano. "They've got the fourth-best power play in the league and you can't get behind two or three goals to this team. Right off the bat, the undisciplined penalties we took killed us. We went to the box three straight times and they capitalized on it."
Kunitz and Neal struck again on a power play less than three minutes later, with the latter racing up the right side and giving Kunitz a pinpoint pass he pushed past a sprawling Nabokov.
"Really nice," said Kunitz of Neal's two assists. "I don't ever usually get those passes, but I got good position on the guy [on the first goal and Nealer had good position on the guy to throw it to the net and put it on my stick. The other one, he was driving hard off a neutral zone, burst into the zone with speed and got the puck over to him. He made a nice play back."
Boyes produced the Isles' only highlight just over eight minutes into the second period, beating Vokoun to the glove side with a wrister, but Pittsburgh scored a pair of goals just 16 seconds apart later in the session to put the game out of reach.
Kunitz completed his hat trick by tapping in a rebound off a Kris Letang shot 6:26 prior to the second intermission, and Neal got past the New York defense after chasing down a puck dumped by Letang and delivered his 17th goal of the season to give Pittsburgh a commanding 5-1 lead.
Dupuis closed out the scoring on a two-on-none rush with Crosby, created by a giveaway in the Islanders' zone with 6:39 elapsed in the final period.
Kunitz's hat trick was his second this season, having amassed a career-high four goals in a 6-3 win at Washington on Feb. 3 ... Crosby's five assists matched a career best, initially set against Philadelphia on Dec. 13, 2006, and he's now racked up five goals and 15 helpers over an eight-game point streak ... Neal has a goal in four consecutive contests, while Dupuis scored for the third game in a row ... The Islanders had won three of the last four meetings in the series coming in, including a 4-1 verdict in Pittsburgh on Jan. 29.