PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sidney Crosby had two goals, Bryan Rust scored for a second straight game and the Pittsburgh Penguins pulled away from the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 on Tuesday night.
Crosby pushed 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 when they played for the Latvian National Team who had early stuffed Blueger on a penalty shot.
Tristan Jarry gave up a goal to Johnny Gaudreau a minute into the game but settled down quickly. Jarry finished with 38 saves to improve to 5-0 against Columbus.
Gaudreau’s ninth goal gave the Blue Jackets a boost early, but the Penguins snapped to over the final two periods to overwhelm Merzlikins, who stopped 30 shots but still fell to 0-5 in his career when facing Pittsburgh.
The Penguins have won three straight, all without star defenseman Kris Letang, who remains out after suffering a stroke on Nov. 28. Letang skated by himself on Tuesday morning, but there remains no timetable for a possible return.
Pittsburgh is 8-1-1 in its last 10 games and is 10-2-2 since a seven-game losing streak in late October and early November sent the club briefly tumbling down the standings. The Penguins have steadied themselves behind Crosby and Jarry, who hasn’t lost in regulation in a month.
While Pittsburgh is surging, the Blue Jackets are sliding. Columbus has dropped five of six thanks mostly to an offense that is struggling 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 wrist shot from the left circle 60 seconds in seemed to surprise Jarry. It did little, however, to wake up his teammates. Columbus controlled play for most of the first period.
It did not 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, returned to jam home a rebound 1:15 into the second for his second goal in as many games after managing just one in his previous 14.
Crosby gave the Penguins the lead 47 seconds later when he darted to the slot and chipped in a rebound off a Jake Guentzel shot. Crosby made it 3-1 just past the game’s midway point when he stood at the right post and had a Guentzel pass essentially deflect off him into the net for his second multi-goal game of the season.
The 35-year-old Crosby’s 15 goals are already nearly half the 31 he managed last season, and he is on pace for 47 goals. He hasn’t topped 35 goals in a season since leading the league with 44 in 2016-17.
Blue Jackets: Host Buffalo on Wednesday.
Penguins: Begin a home-and-home set with Buffalo on Friday when they visit the Sabres.