ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel are doing their part, continuing to pile up points for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the team’s goaltenders might have been the headlining act in a big December.
Phil Kessel had a goal and two assists, and Sidney Crosby added a goal and assist as Pittsburgh kept rolling with a 3-2 win against the Minnesota Wild on Monday night.
Casey DeSmith, who stopped 40 shots to beat Minnesota on Dec. 20, made 31 saves for the Penguins, who have won eight of their past 10 games, a season-high six games in a row and finished December 11-3-1.
DeSmith was 6-3-1 in December with a 2.39 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. Matt Murray, since returning from a lower-body injury, was 5-0 with a 1.38 goals-against average and .959 save percentage for Pittsburgh. Heading into the game, the two combined for a .931 save percentage in the month, which led the league.
“I think they’ve got a nice, healthy competition amongst themselves right now,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “They’re both at their very best. They’re making timely saves for us. They’re making saves at key times in the game that give us a chance to either maintain a lead or get momentum back, whatever it may be.”
Kessel has three points in each of his past three games and Crosby has four straight games with multiple points for Pittsburgh, which tied its season high with its fourth straight road win.
Mikko Koivu scored for the first time in 15 games and Zach Parise added his 17th goal of the season for the Wild. Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for Minnesota, which has lost eight of its past 11 games.
“It was another pretty good effort by us,” Dubnyk said. “Obviously, it gets old. We’re all competitive and used to winning in here, so you don’t want to sit here and say over and over that we played well and had chances and made a good effort. But that’s the case.”
The Wild snapped a five-game losing streak on Saturday at Winnipeg and then opened the scoring against the Penguins.
Koivu started a rush from his defensive zone and got a pass from Nino Niederreiter in the slot, sending a quick shot past DeSmith. It was the first power-play goal allowed by Pittsburgh in six games. They had killed 14 straight short-handed situations.
It was Koivu’s 59th career power-play goal, tied with Marian Gaborik for most in franchise history.
Given their first power-play, the Penguins tied the game with Kessel sending a pass through defenseman Ryan Suter’s legs to Crosby alone on the back side for an easy tap-in goal.
It was the fifth-straight goal on the power-play for Pittsburgh, which was 4 of 4 in a 6-1 win against St. Louis on Saturday. Crosby has 10 points in the past four games.
Kessel scored his 17th goal of the season with 21 seconds left in the first period when his shot from the side deflected off Suter’s stick past Dubnyk.
“We have given them a couple in the two games,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “There’s no ifs ands or buts on that. It’s very frustrating. It’s a frustrating theme of the way we don’t succeed sometimes.”
Riley Sheahan scored in the second period for the Penguins and DeSmith was it his best in the period. Minnesota had 13 shots in a scoreless second, including several in which DeSmith made highlight saves.
“It’s all about, as a goaltender, kind of managing in the game and knowing when they’re pressing and doing what you can to hold them off until your team finds a way to push back and respond,” DeSmith said. “Luckily, I was able to do that a little bit during the second period and we got some guys who did a great job finishing their chances tonight.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh F Bryan Rust missed his first game of the season with a lower-body injury he sustained in the previous game against St. Louis. He’s considered day-to-day. Zach Aston-Reese took Rust’s spot on Sidney Crosby’s line. … Penguins D Olli Maatta was a game-time decision with a lower-body injury but was in the lineup. Jamie Oleksiak was a healthy scratch for the second straight game after missing three games with an injury. … Minnesota D Nick Seeler (upper-body injury) skated before the game and coach Bruce Boudreau said Seeler could return on the team’s upcoming four-game road trip. … Crosby became just the second player in Pittsburgh history to play in 900 games. Mario Lemieux is the all-time leader in games played with 915.
Penguins: Face the New York Rangers on Wednesday.
Wild: Play Thursday in Toronto.