By Dan Scifo
From the Point contributor
PITTSBURGH — With three former No. 1 overall picks, the Edmonton Oilers boast some of the best young skill in the National Hockey League.
The Pittsburgh Penguins remember those days, at one time serving as the poster boys for burgeoning, emerging talent with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way.
The Penguins’ superstars came through Tuesday as Malkin’s power-play goal served as the game-winner while Crosby’s three assists moved him into the NHL scoring lead helping Pittsburgh fend off the upstart Oilers, 3-2, at Consol Energy Center.
“Guys capitalized on some chances and we found ways to put the puck in the back of the net,” Crosby said. “We had some good chances tonight and it was nice to see them go in.”
Crosby’s linemates Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz also found the back of the net, helping the Penguins race out to a 4-0 start at home for the first time since the 1994-95 season.
Penguins’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, 18-1 in his last 19 home starts, made 20 saves, improving to 5-0 this season. He has allowed nine goals through his first five games, which is a new career low.
“He was solid all night,” Crosby said. “There was a lot of traffic around the net and he had to battle through that. It was a big part of our win.”
The Oilers didn’t make it easy, twice battling back from one-goal deficits to tie the game. Ales Hemsky and 2008 first-round pick Jordan Eberle scored for the Oilers, while Jason Labarbera stopped 25 shots.
Malkin’s power play goal at 7:20 of the third period served as the game-winner.
“When your power-play goes out there, you have to take advantage of those opportunities, and the last couple games, our power play has done that,” Crosby said.
Indeed it has. Pittsburgh has converted 6 of its last 14 opportunities during the previous four games.
Crosby drew the penalty, taking a high stick to the face from Oilers’ defenseman Andrew Ference while streaking to the net. Crosby, whose first NHL fight came against Ference as a member of the Boston Bruins in 2007, exchanged words with the Oilers’ veteran defenseman — and former Penguin — before helping Pittsburgh take the lead for good with his third assist of the game.
Defenseman Paul Martin didn’t get all of a shot from the point, but Malkin, along the right wing boards, collected the dribbling puck and whipped it past Labarbera to give the Pens a 3-2 lead.
“He was looking to shoot and got a nice bounce from a tough angle,” Crosby said. “Great shot by Geno to put that in at obviously a big point in the game.”
Crosby’s three assists — one game after a hat trick against Tampa Bay — moved him atop the NHL scoring race, three points ahead of Capitals’ forward Alex Ovechkin. It also helped the Penguins’ captain equal his longest point streak, at six games, to start to start a season since his rookie year in 2005.
“I love to watch him go,” Fleury said. “He’s a big leader for us, a key player, and every night he’s been great.”
The Penguins dominated the opening period, outshooting the Oilers, 15-3, but only managed one goal after 20 minutes.
Crosby’s behind-the-net pass bounced off a skate, directly to Dupuis, who staked the Penguins to a 1-0 lead from the faceoff dot 3:08 into the game.
Edmonton opened the second period with 10 of the first 11 shots, generating momentum from a two-man advantage to tie the game.
The Oilers notched the eventual equalizer 1:39 into the period, just seconds after an early power-play expired. David Perron’s initial shot hit the post, but the rebound came out to Hemsky, who pounced before Fleury could recover.
The Oilers carried the play from there, but Fleury kept the game tied, allowing the Penguins to pull ahead midway through the period.
Labarbera had trouble with a Dupuis shot from the blueline, deflected by Crosby. The rebound squirted to the far post, where Crosby skated around the net and got a whack at the puck before Kunitz finished it off, giving the Pens a 2-1 lead.
“I thought the goal in the second period was a big goal for us,” Penguins’ head coach Dan Bylsma said. “They were taking the play to us for a lot of the period to that point and we needed a big shift.”
Edmonton didn’t go away as Eberle’s second of the season helped the Oilers tie it six minutes later.
Fleury made a diving glove stop on Taylor Hall from his stomach, but Eberle picked up the rebound, shoveling a backhand past the sprawled Penguins’ goaltender.
“The second period was kind of how we played against Florida and Tampa with a lot of turnovers in the neutral zone,” Penguins’ defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “Against a team like that, that’s what they’re looking for, especially with some of the younger guys they have that can skate really well. We were probably lucky to get out of the second period tied.”
Malkin made sure to win it during the Penguins’ power-play opportunity in the third period.
“He’s been getting chances, and it’s always nice to see them go in,” Crosby said. “We were happy to see him score.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh’s 5-1 start is its best since going 9-1 to open the 2009-10 season…The Penguins have a six-game unbeaten streak against the Oilers, dating back to Dec. 5, 2007…Pittsburgh won for the 20th time in 22 regular-season home games…Penguins forward Beau Bennett is day-to-day with a lower body injury…The Penguins 23 goals – third in the league – are the most since scoring 24 through the first six games in the 1999-2000 season…The Penguins are 33-for-33 on the penalty kill in their past 12 regular-season home games and 9-for-9 this season…Malkin, on a four-game point scoring streak, has now scored against every team in the league.