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Penguins run winning streak to 5 with rout of Blues

Jonathan Bombulie
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The Blues’ Pat Maroon gets the puck around the Penguins’ Derick Brassard during the first period Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in St. Louis.
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The Penquins’ Patric Hornqvist reaches for the puck next to the Blues’ Jay Bouwmeester during the second period Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — Their power play couldn’t be stopped.

Their goalie stopped almost everything.

That turned out to be a pretty solid recipe for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

Matt Murray improved to 5-0 since returning from a lower-body injury, and the power play connected on all four of its chances, getting goals from Sidney Crosby, Juuso Riikola, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin to secure a 6-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues.

The Penguins have won a season-high five in a row.

The Penguins scored three times in a five-minute span of the second period to turn a 1-0 advantage into a comfortable 4-0 lead.

Riikola got it started with his first NHL goal. With the second power-play unit on the ice, Tanner Pearson won a puck battle in the right-wing corner and passed to Riikola above the left hash marks for a slap shot that trickled through goalie Jake Allen at the 5 minute, 13 seconds mark.

About two minutes later, Murray poked a puck off the stick of Patrick Maroon as he camped out at the top of the crease to thwart a prime scoring chance. The Penguins marched down the ice and made it 3-0 on a tic-tac-toe passing play from Crosby behind the net to Letang at the blue line to Zach Aston-Reese at the right post for a redirection.

Aston-Reese was playing with the top line because Bryan Rust left the game after the first period with an apparent injury.

The Penguins finished off the run by going 3 for 3 on the power play. Letang lobbed a shot on goal from the blue line that took a deflection and sailed past a Hornqvist screen at 9:25.

Allen was pulled having stopped 12 of 16 shots.

In the third period, Jake Guentzel tipped in a Brian Dumoulin point shot and Malkin finished the perfect night on the power play with a knee-drop snap shot from the left circle to make it 6-1.

Looking only at the standings, the game looked like a mismatch in favor of the Penguins. Coming in, the Blues were tied with Chicago for last place in the Central Division while the Penguins had climbed back into third in the Metropolitan.

A closer look revealed a different story.

The Blues have rebounded after getting off to a 7-9-3 start, firing former Penguins assistant Mike Yeo and replacing him with Craig Berube. They had won five of seven coming in and were getting captain Alex Pietrangelo back from injury.

“My experience has been that every night is a challenge, that every team in this league has the ability to be very good. St. Louis is no different,” coach Mike Sullivan said.

St. Louis might have wanted to take a different approach to start the game, though. Taking a penalty nine seconds in wasn’t a sound plan.

Alexander Steen was called for high-sticking Rust off the opening faceoff and the Penguins converted 37 seconds later.

Hornqvist took a pass at the right post and as he turned toward a shooting position instead passed to Crosby along the goal line. Crosby buried a bad-angle shot for his 17th goal of the season.

The Penguins never relinquished that lead thanks to another strong start for Murray, who was 5-0-1 with a .948 save percentage on the road this season coming into Saturday night.

Most notably, with about four minutes left in the period, Brayden Schenn made a pinpoint pass from the right half-wall to spring Jaden Schwartz down the slot. Schwartz went to his backhand, but Murray reached back with his glove hand to deflect the puck into the air, where it was swatted away by Phil Kessel.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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