Penguins dispatch Rangers for 4th consecutive win |
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Jonathan Bombulie
The Penguins' Dominik Simon (center) celebrates his first NHL goal in the NHL with Daniel Sprong (41) and Sidney Crosby (87) in the second period.

Given the profile of his linemates, there’s a chance winger Dominik Simon could get lost in the Penguins shuffle these days.

His center, Sidney Crosby, is the greatest player of his generation. His right wing, Daniel Sprong, is the hotshot prospect with the highlight-reel shot.

On Sunday, though, Simon played second fiddle to no one.

Simon netted his first NHL goal during a crucial second-period stretch as the Penguins defeated the New York Rangers, 5-2, at PPG Paints Arena.

Phil Kessel followed up with another goal 75 seconds later, helping the Penguins tie a season-best winning streak with their fourth victory in a row.

“It feels great,” Simon said. “Even better with the win. It feels unbelievable to score the first one.”

For the first time this season, the Penguins look to be firing on all cylinders, scoring 19 times during the four-game streak.

They’re now closer to second place in the Metropolitan Division than they are the three-team tangle in last, trailing Columbus by two points and but leading Philadelphia, Carolina and the Islanders by three.

“Everyone’s just playing better hockey. It’s that simple,” said winger Carl Hagelin, who had a goal and an assist. “Why that is, I’m not sure, but guys seem to feel better about their game and have more swagger on the ice.”

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Trailing 2-1 at the game’s midpoint, the Penguins unleashed one of those multi-goal offensive outbursts that became their trademark during the last two postseasons.

With less than seven minutes left in the second period, Simon and Crosby used some intricate passing to enter the offensive zone and set up a Brian Dumoulin shot from the right point. Simon buried the rebound and flipped the keepsake puck to the equipment staff behind the bench for safekeeping.

A fifth-round round pick in the 2015 draft, the 23-year-old Simon had six assists but no goals in his first 15 NHL games.

“His offensive instincts, his ability to make plays his tight-area skills, they’re really good,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “That’s what allows him to play with a guy like Crosby. We’re hoping he’ll continue to build on this.”

On the next shift, Jake Guentzel got a puck deep before Conor Sheary corralled it in the corner and passed to Kessel at the right faceoff dot for a laser that goalie Henrik Lundqvist had no chance to stop.

The shot made Kessel a 10-time 20-goal scorer and gave him 700 points for his career.

The two-goal rally showed what the Penguins were missing throughout much of the first half of the season: an offense that comes in waves and leaves opposing defenses gasping for air.

“I think our guys like to score as much as any team in the league,” Sullivan said. “When we score, we seem to build off it. Our guys get real excited. It’s an important attribute to have as a team if we’re going to get to where we want to go.”

Crosby added an insurance goal in the third period, taking a pass from Kessel in the right circle and beating goalie Henrik Lundqvist to the blocker side. Lundqvist has lost seven straight regular-season games against the Penguins.

Crosby has 10 points in his last four games, Kessel has 13 points in his last nine, and the Penguins’ stars are riding the wave of the team’s resurgent offense.

The Penguins fell behind 2-1 when Michael Grabner converted a breakaway and Brendan Smith banked a shot in off goalie Tristan Jarry’s blocker in the final five minutes of the first period, but they overwhelmed the Rangers the rest of the way with an offense that generated 47 shots on goal.

“That’s more the kind of identity that we have,” Crosby said. “We’re a fast team, and we’re playing fast right now.”

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

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