ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — This season has been far from what many expected of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Things may be changing for the better.
Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist in his return after a one-game absence for a lower-body injury and the Penguins beat the Minnesota Wild 3-1 Saturday night.
Eric Fehr and Patric Hornqvist also scored and the Penguins won back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 17-19. Pittsburgh beat the Blue Jackets 5-2 Monday night without Crosby.
"Watching the Columbus game I thought we did a lot of good things there, too, and I think this was building off of that, a very similar effort and we got rewarded for it," Crosby said.
Matt Murray made 25 saves and Pittsburgh, which began the night in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division, won for just the third time in its past 10 games. Kris Letang had a pair of assists after missing the past six games with an upper-body injury.
Minnesota has lost three of four after gaining points in nine straight games. Jason Zucker had the Wild's goal, and Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves.
"The last four or five games we've got another level that we have to get to and a lot of individuals I would say through that time have to bring a little bit more," coach Mike Yeo said. "This is a time of year where do you fall asleep and lose ground or do you make a push and gain ground?"
Pittsburgh's five-goal outburst Monday included two scores each by Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Over their previous five games, the Penguins had scored just six times and earned just one point in the standings.
"When Sid's in the lineup and we have Sid and (Malkin) back-to-back, I think they're dangerous," coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought we had some balance throughout our lineup tonight and everyone contributed. The penalty kill was great. I thought the role players did a great job.
"That's the type of identity we want to create here. It's about the group. And I think the last couple of games we're starting to understand the importance of it and that we need one another to get to where we want to go."
After a four-day layoff, the Penguins held an 11-4 shot advantage in the first period and started the second with a flurry. Pittsburgh had the period's first five shots and finally capitalized with Crosby's first goal in eight games and second in 12.
Wild defenseman Ryan Suter turned the puck over in the neutral zone, leading to a Pittsburgh rush. David Perron ultimately got the puck near the left corner and quickly passed to Crosby just above the left dot. His one-timer beat Dubnyk on the stick side.
Pittsburgh had nine of the period's first 10 shots with Minnesota's lone shot coming on a power play. The Penguins held a 20-5 shot advantage through 28 minutes. The difference was 27-12 after two periods.
"We didn't execute, couldn't come out of our own end, couldn't come through the neutral zone. Turning pucks over to those guys is a tough thing to do," Suter said.
Fehr made it 2-0 with 1:50 remaining in the second period when, charging down the slot, he tipped a pass from Kevin Porter past Dubnyk.
Zucker scored for Minnesota 45 seconds later when his shot from the left circle eluded Murray, but Pittsburgh went up 3-1 on Hornqvist's power-play goal 31 seconds after that.
Letang's shot from the top of the slot bounced off the end boards to Crosby at the right post. Dubnyk stopped Crosby's stuff attempt, but the rebound trickled across the crease to Hornqvist. He swatted the puck in while fighting off a defender.
"We were in their zone there a lot in that second period," Crosby said. "It's a lot more fun to play that way."
NOTES: The Wild has lost six of their last seven against Pittsburgh. ... The Penguins began a stretch where they will play seven of 10 games on the road. ... Minnesota fell to 13-5-1 on home ice. ... The Penguins recalled F Scott Wilson from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL. ... Ryan Carter was a scratch for Minnesota. He's nursing an upper-body injury.