Sparked by Crosby line, Pens roll

The only thing Sidney Crosby hasn’t done in two games since his return?


“I’m always looking for a goal,” said Crosby, who hasn’t tallied since Nov. 21. “Whether it’s at the end of a game or the start of a game, you see openings, you create things and you just wanna put the puck in the net.”

Oh well. That’s what his teammates are for. He just has to get them the puck.

He did on Saturday.

Playing in his second game after missing the previous 40 with concussion-like symptoms, Crosby tied a season-high with three assists and the Penguins demolished the Devils, 5-2, at the Prudential Center.

Pittsburgh, which outshot New Jersey 44-14, has now won 11 straight games -- the longest winning streak for any NHL team this season. And don’t forget: they captured the first nine without Crosby in the lineup.

“I felt more comfortable having already played in a game,” said Crosby, who took 17 shifts, logged 15:19 of ice-time and fired six shots on goal. “When you first come out there you’re probably thinking more than you should. So the more you get out there, it’s about reacting and not really thinking.”

In wins over the Rangers and Devils, Crosby has combined to record five assists and amass a plus-five rating.

“I just feel like it didn’t take as long to figure things out and to adjust and create things, and we played a really fast game out there [Saturday],” Crosby said.

The 24-year-old got on the score sheet in the second period when he sent a cross-crease pass to Matt Cooke, which deflected off Cooke’s skate and into the net, putting the Penguins up 3-1 at 11:44.

Fifty-eight seconds later, with Pittsburgh on the power play, Crosby slid a cross-ice pass from the left-wing boards over to Evgeni Malkin, who one-timed the puck in from the right circle for his 40th goal of the season, making it 4-1.

Crosby later added a secondary assist on Cooke’s second marker, which capped off the scoring binge at 5:56 of the third.

“He’s still going through the defense with speed and we’re still seeing him going to the net hard,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Crosby had several opportunities to cash in on Saturday afternoon. Only problem was, Martin Brodeur robbed every one of them.

Crosby would’ve buried a rebound near the left post if Brodeur hadn’t gotten his paddle on the puck with help from the post in the opening frame, and the future Hall of Fame goaltender snagged his blast from the left circle after he sped down the wing in the middle period.

“I wanna make sure that we’re more dangerous when I get in there and put those in,” Crosby said. “It does take time, hopefully not too long, though.”

No worries, Sid. The Penguins possess so much scoring depth it doesn’t matter.

Consider: On Saturday afternoon, their “third” line of Crosby, Cooke and Tyler Kennedy combined for seven points, while James Neal got his 32nd goal of the season and Pascal Dupuis netted No. 20.

Over the course of the winning streak, the Penguins have outscored their opposition 43-17 in regulation.

“If not for Marty Brodeur, we give up 10 [goals],” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “He was our best player.”

While the Devils will look to turn it around against the Rangers on Monday night at the Garden, the Penguins must quickly shift their attention to a Sunday matinee matchup in Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh is now just two points behind New York for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

“One of our goals is winning the division, and as long as we keep winning, it’s a possibility,” Bylsma said.

Now that Crosby is back -- as is Kris Letang -- it just might happen.