PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Oh sure, leave it to Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel to carry Pittsburgh's top line. Try four goals and an assist between them to keep Pittsburgh perfect over the last 10 games.
That third member of the line? Well, Sidney Crosby did at least chip in two assists.
“When they play the right way like they are right now, they set the bar for our team and it drives our team,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “The rest of the group follows their lead.”
The Penguins won 10 straight games for the sixth time in franchise history, getting two goals each from Rust and Guentzel to beat the depleted Philadelphia Flyers 6-2 on Thursday night.
The Penguins won the second game of a back-to-back and haven’t lost since Dec. 1 against Edmonton. The Penguins won five games during the streak on the road and can at least think about the team record of 17 straight set over March-April 1993. The Penguins also won 15 straight games in March 2013 and have winning streaks of 12, 11 and 10 games, all since 1999.
The 29-year-old Rust has keyed the recent surge with seven goals in the last three games since he returned from an 11-game absence with an undisclosed injury. He scored a power-play goal in the first period — with an assist from noted Flyers tormentor Crosby — and then added his ninth goal of the season just 2:34 later to make it 2-0. Rust recorded a hat trick and had five points against San Jose on Sunday.
“For some reason right now the puck is pretty attracted to him,” Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said.
Guentzel scored against Carter Hart to make it 3-0 in the first, giving the forward a point in each of his last 16 games. Guentzel scored again with 9:40 left in the game for a 5-1 lead.
“We’re all playing at a high level right now,” Guentzel said of the top line. “For us, when we’re getting the bounces and we’re playing in the offensive zone and trying to wear teams out, I think that’s when we’re at our best.”
The Penguins played a Flyers team ravaged with injuries and even more players in the COVID-19 protocol. The Flyers had six players in the protocol, including top-point scorer and team captain Claude Giroux, defenseman Ivan Provorov and forward Travis Konecny. The NHL postponed Thursday’s game between Anaheim and the Detroit Red Wings because of COVID-19-related issues affecting the Ducks.
Yet the Flyers played on and lost their fourth straight game.
“We have nine, 10 guys out, six guys in protocol. It’s a tough league to win that way,” Flyers center Scott Laughton said.
Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk said he tried not to worry about the fairness of the situation.
“Obviously it’s out of our control, to a degree,” he said. “You just have to hope that everyone making these decisions, that it’s kind of relatively fair across the board for that sort of stuff. I don’t want to waste too much energy thinking about stuff like that. I just try to focus on the game tonight.”
The Flyers could have used more focus — and healthy bodies.
But no team has stopped the Penguins over the last month, and they started strong early a night after they rallied for a 5-3 home win over the St. Louis Blues. Tristan Jarry stopped 18 shots. Evan Rodrigues scored his 15th goal in the third and Brian Boyle also scored a short-handed goal in the period to turn this one into a rout.
Cam Atkinson scored his 14th goal of the season for the Flyers in the second period and Oskar Lindblom scored a power-play goal in the third. Hart stopped 26 shots.
“Bad things happen but what are you going to do? You have to make sure you respond to that," Flyers interim coach Mike Yeo said. "We have a chance to prove that this isn’t us. Things right now aren’t going well enough during the season. We need to a way to push harder. We have to show more fight in that situation.”
MOMENT OF SILENCE
The Flyers held a moment of silence for the 12 people killed this week when a fire tore through a Philadelphia rowhome. Flyers Charities made a $10,000 donation to the Fairmount Families Support Fund through The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia. This fund will directly support the survivors and families impacted by the tragedy.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Rust has 11 points in the first three games off 2022. In the NHL’s modern era (since 1943-44), the only other players to have 11+ points in their first three games of a calendar year are Wayne Gretzky (1982, 1984) and Mario Lemieux (1997).
Penguins: Play Saturday at Dallas.
Flyers: Host the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.
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Dan Gelston, The Associated Press