The Pittsburgh Penguins have four points atop the Atlantic Division. The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers have none at the bottom.
No, it isn’t too early to keep an eye on the standings in this lockout-induced, 48-game sprint to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
James Neal scored twice, linemate Evgeni Malkin had three assists, and the Penguins chased reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist from the net in the second period of a 6-3 victory over the Rangers in New York’s home opener on Sunday night.
The Penguins went into Philadelphia and New York on back-to-back days to open the short season and came out with two wins.
“You don’t want to get behind the eight-ball and all of a sudden be chasing teams,” Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun said. “In this season, somebody who you are chasing is always going to be playing somebody you might be chasing, too. You might not be able to gain any ground, so you don’t want to be in that position.”
Neal, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Niskanen scored in the first period, and Malkin set up Pascal Dupuis in the second to push Pittsburgh’s lead to 4-1 and drive Lundqvist to the bench.
The Penguins, building off a 3-1 win at Philadelphia on Saturday, are 2-0 and haven’t even played a home game.
And they did it without any goals from captain Sidney Crosby or Malkin.
“That’s great, but hopefully we don’t have to make too much of a habit of that,” said Crosby, who had an assist for his first point of the season. “It shows the depth we have and the way we play.”
Neal added his second of the game and third of the season off another assist by Malkin to make it 5-1 at 5:06 of the third. Kris Letang added an empty-net goal with 1:52 left to close the scoring.
“It’s always a good game against the Rangers,” Neal said. “We get up for it, and how can you not playing at MSG? We have the same mindset going into every game: we want to wear teams down, we want shoot the puck, go to the net, wear down their D. We did that all night.”
Veteran backup Vokoun started for Pittsburgh over Marc-Andre Fleury and was solid in making 31 saves.