By WILL GRAVES
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH – Evgeni Malkin stood in the right circle just watching the play unfold in front of him when the puck suddenly materialized on his stick with nary a soul around.
The empty net never had a chance.
The Pittsburgh Penguins center wristed his second goal of the season 7:20 into the third period to put the Penguins in front for good in a 3-2 win over Edmonton on Tuesday night.
“Tough angle, great shot by Geno,” Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby said. “He’s been getting chances, it’s always nice to see them go in.”
Something that seems to be happening a lot for the Penguins, who remained unbeaten and largely unchallenged at home. Crosby assisted on all three Pittsburgh goals to vault him into the NHL scoring lead, two of the assists going to linemates Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 20 shots to improve to 5-0, including a handful of spectacular saves to fend off the Oilers, who twice rallied to tie the game.
“He’s making all the right saves at the right time,” Kunitz said.
Ales Hemsky and Jordan Eberle scored for Edmonton. Jason Labarbera made 25 saves but was nowhere to be found on the game-winner.
The Penguins were on the power play when Crosby fed defenseman Paul Martin at the point. Martin wound up for a one-timer but instead dribbled a knuckler that slowly rolled right to Malkin. Labarbera wasn’t sure what was happening until Malkin was in the corner celebrating.
“I didn’t know what happened,” Labarbera said. “I look over and the puck is on his stick and I was kind of in no man’s land.”
The Oilers fell to 1-5-1 to quell some early optimism the franchise is heading in the right direction behind former No. 1 picks Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.
“We’ve got to find ways to win games, that’s the bottom line,” Labarbera said. “Every one of us needs to step it up a bit more and find a way to win.”
The Penguins haven’t trailed at home yet this season and wasted little time jumping on the well-traveled Oilers, who were playing their third game in four nights. Crosby, coming off a hat trick in a victory in Tampa on Saturday, collected the puck behind the Edmonton net and flipped a pass that deflected off Kunitz’s stick and went right to Dupuis, who slipped a shot between Labarbera’s legs to make it 1-0 just 3:08 into the first period.
Pittsburgh dominated the first 20 minutes but the Oilers collected themselves early in the second. A 5-on-3 power play failed to produce a goal but the momentum from the end of the penalty allowed Edmonton to tie it. Jeff Petry threw in a shot from the point and David Perron jumped on the rebound but his shot into a wide-open net went off the post and behind Fleury. Hemsky raced in and poked it across the goal line for his second goal of the season.
Kunitz made it 2-1 Pittsburgh just past the game’s midway point, though he left the hard work up to Dupuis and Crosby. Racing in three-on-two, Dupuis’ wrist shot at the net was deflected by Crosby. The puck glanced off Labarbera’s glove and slid toward the net. Crosby raced behind the net and was about to tap it in only to have Kunitz beat his good friend to the punch by a split second.
“It happened pretty quick, I’m going to check my stick to see if there’s a mark or a little chip on it,” Crosby said with a laugh.
Still, the Oilers kept coming. Fleury, arguably Pittsburgh’s best player during the team’s quick start, ended up sprawled in front of the net during a scrum and was unable to secure the puck. It trickled out to Eberle, who lifted a backhand over a sea of players with 4:01 remaining in the second.
It wasn’t enough, however, for Edmonton to end a miserable opening two weeks or put a dent in Pittsburgh’s perfect record at Consol Energy Center.
NOTES: Yakupov, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch in the previous two games and played more than 17 minutes. ... Penguins F Beau Bennett was scratched due to a lower body injury and is “day to day” according to coach Dan Byslma. ... The Oilers continue their six-game road trip on Thursday against the New York Islanders. ... Pittsburgh plays in Philadelphia on Thursday.
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP
By WILL GRAVES
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