PITTSBURGH (AP) — Blake Comeau spent seven long weeks dealing with an upper body injury that lingered far longer than he would have liked. The energetic Pittsburgh Penguins forward did his best to make up for lost time.
Comeau picked up an assist on his first shift in nearly two months and threw in a goal of his own in Pittsburgh’s impressive 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night.
“I’ve never gone through an injury like that where I’ve missed that much time,” Comeau said. “It felt like longer than it was just skating on my own. When you’ve been out that long, it definitely eases the mind a little when you can get on the score sheet right away.”
He’s not kidding. Comeau ended his first shift back by helping set up Patric Hornqvist’s 15th goal of the year. Comeau wasn’t done, drilling a one-timer by Detroit’s Petr Mrazek later in the period as the Penguins put together perhaps their finest 60 minutes of hockey in weeks.
“I think we’ve got to use it for some momentum here,” Comeau said. “We’ve got to realize what we did well.”
Namely keep the pressure on the Red Wings. Detroit came in as the hottest team in the league, going 9-1 in its previous 10 games. The Red Wings were never really in it. The rejuvenated second line of Hornqvist, Comeau and Evgeni Malkin — all of whom came off the injured list in the last 10 days — provided an early boost the Penguins rode through three one-sided periods.
“(Malkin’s) line was really buzzing,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think just to kind of get everyone into it, get that pace, get that momentum, a lead is always nice too, but we finally have everyone in the lineup and we have to build now.”
David Perron and Nick Spaling also scored for the Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 shots to earn his fourth win in his last five starts.
Stephen Weiss picked up his seventh goal for the Red Wings, but Detroit couldn’t keep pace. Mrazek made 13 saves on just 17 shots and was pulled after the second period.
“A little humble pie for us tonight, we got our lunch fed to us and they were better,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “Obviously, we’ve got to be a lot better. We can’t be proud of our effort tonight.”
Pittsburgh rebounded quickly from a listless 5-0 loss to Vancouver at the end of a three-game road swing. Buoyed by an early lead, Fleury was crisp while improving to 11-1-2 against Atlantic Division opponents. His career-best shutout streak ended at 165:06 when Weiss scored more than midway through the game, but by then the Penguins were in firm control.
The Red Wings have surged since Jan. 1 even with starting goaltender Jimmy Howard sidelined for a month with a groin injury. Howard wasn’t expected to return until Saturday night against Winnipeg, but made an appearance in the third after two ineffective periods by the 22-year-old Mrazek, whose brilliant play has sparked Detroit’s rapid ascension.
It disappeared against the Penguins, who have spent most of the last two months scuffling along while competing with an ever evolving lineup that finally appears to be getting healthy.
Comeau made an immediate impact. He slipped a pass to Kris Letang, whose slap shot went wide but smacked off the end boards and onto Hornqvist’s stick at the side of the net. Hornqvist roofed it by Mrazek and the Penguins were in front.
Comeau doubled Pittsburgh’s lead midway in the first. Hornqvist stripped the puck from Luke Glendening behind the Detroit net and fed to Comeau in the slot for a snap shot Mrazek couldn’t corral.
Perron’s 14th goal of the year — and ninth since joining the Penguins on Jan. 2, — was nearly a carbon copy. Maxim Lapierre took advantage of a giveaway deep in the Red Wings end and hit Perron streaking in front. When Spaling deflected Rob Scuderi’s shot from the point 7:52 into the second period, the Penguins were up 4-0 and in firm control.
“We were the ones making the turnovers,” Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg said. “We didn’t have enough speed. We put ourselves in situations where we were forced to make a play instead of keep it simple and sometimes that happens. We just have to move on.”
NOTES: Crosby was held without a point in his 600th career game. Crosby is the eighth player in franchise history to play 600 games with the club. … Howard stopped all four shots in the third period. … The Penguins play at Ottawa on Thursday.
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