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Pens Pocket Fifth Straight Victory, 5-2

Pittsburgh Penguins' Kasperi Kapanen (42) celebrates his goal with Evan Rodrigues (9) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Evan Rodrigues always had the tools. A sneaky good shot. Vision. Speed. The tricky part for the Pittsburgh Penguins forward has been putting it all together at the same time.

The missing ingredients turned out to be belief and a dash of swagger. Rodrigues is currently playing with copious amounts of both, the proof coming during a 5-2 win over Montreal on Tuesday night that pushed Pittsburgh’s winning streak to five games.

Rodrigues hammered home a one-timer from the left circle 6:45 into the second period for his ninth goal of the season, matching the career-high he posted in 2018-19 while playing for Buffalo. It took him 74 games to get to that total. This year, he reached it in just 28 games.

The injury-ravaged Penguins have needed all of them. Rodrigues spent most of his career in a complementary role but found himself thrust into the top-six early in the season with Sidney Crosby and others injured. The added responsibility has hardly been a burden. If anything, it gave Rodrigues the boost he needed.

“Playing center (at the start of the season) gave me a lot of puck touches,” said Rodrigues, who also had two assists. “The more plays you make, the more confidence you get.”

It was on display after Rodrigues’ power-play goal gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead they never threatened to give up. He sheathed his stick like a sword before being met by his teammates, Crosby among them.

“I think as far as the biggest improvement is he’s got a lot of confidence when he shoots it,” Crosby said. “That’s one thing that’s stood out. He’s got a great shot.”

And he hasn’t been afraid to take it. He’s averaging 3.3 shots per game this season, compared to his career average of less than two coming in.

“No matter what position we’ve put him in, he has thrived and that’s a credit to him,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “Opportunity is one thing and taking advantage of it another and that’s what E-Rod has done.”

Kasperi Kapanen, Mike Matheson, Brian Dumoulin and Brian Boyle also scored for Pittsburgh. Tristan Jarry finished with 28 saves to improve to 8-1-1 in his last 10 starts.

Jarry’s spectacular play has helped the injury-ravaged Penguins — currently playing without top-six forwards Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust — stay afloat in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh is 10-2-1 over its last 13 games following a sluggish start.

“We check really well,” said Crosby, whose two assists made him the 14th player in NHL history to have 400 career multi-point games. “We’ve got speed. When we play that way, we’re tough to play against. We don’t give up a lot.”

Jesse Ylonen scored the first goal of his career for Montreal. Jonathan Drouin added his fifth of the season and Jake Allen stopped 26 shots but couldn’t prevent the Canadiens from dropping their seventh straight.

A little over five months after reaching the Stanley Cup finals under a modified playoff format as a result of COVID-19, Montreal sits in last place in the Eastern Conference.

“There’s nothing you can say,” defenseman Jeff Petry said. “It’s frustrating. It’s the same things over and over. We’re not playing as a team. We’re not playing as a group.”

The Canadiens came out flying early, testing Jarry repeatedly in the opening minutes and hitting the post twice. The pressure, however, failed to produce a goal and Kapanen gave the Penguins the lead 11:08 into the first in a sequence that sums up where both teams are at as Christmas approaches.

Allen turned aside a shot by Letang from the point, but the rebound caromed off Rodrigues’ skate in the slot and floated in the air toward the net. Allen extended his glove to snag it, only to have Kapanen get to the puck first, bunting it over a surprised Allen for Kapanen’s seventh goal of the season and second since moving to the top line last week in place of the injured Guentzel.

The teams traded goals in the second, with Montreal pulling within 3-2 on a laser from Ylonen with 3 seconds left.

The momentum didn’t carry over into the third. Dumolin’s fluttering slapshot from the blue line beat Allen 28 seconds into the third and the Penguins were on their way to matching a season-high winning streak they set while ripping off five straight from Nov. 18-26.

FLYERS 6, DEVILS 1

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Cam Atkinson had three goals and an assist to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a victory over the New Jersey Devils.

Travis Sanheim and Oskar Lindblom each had a goal and an assist, and Justin Braun also scored for the Flyers, who won their third game in a row after losing 10 straight. Philadelphia improved to 3-2 under interim coach Mike Yeo, who took over Dec. 6 when Alain Vigneault was fired.

P.K. Subban scored for the Devils, who have lost three straight and seven of eight. New Jersey was without captain Nico Hischier and top defenseman Ryan Graves, who each missed a second straight game due to COVID-19 protocols.

Atkinson upped his team-leading total to 12 goals this season.

GOLDEN KNIGHTS 4, BRUINS 1

BOSTON (AP) — Max Pacioretty scored — twice — in his seventh straight game to lead Vegas over COVID-depleted Boston.

Robin Lehner made 23 saves for the Golden Knights, who won for the fifth time in six games. Shea Theodore also scored for Vegas, and Jonathan Marchessault had a goal with 0.6 seconds left in the first period to send the Bruins to their locker room to the boos of the hometown crowd.

Hours after the Bruins put leading scorer Brad Marchand in the COVID-19 protocol, and one day after coach Bruce Cassidy returned from his positive test, the Bruins lost snapped a two-game winning streak. Patrice Bergeron scored 21 seconds in the third period and Jeremy Swayman stopped 21 shots.

SENATORS 8, PANTHERS 2

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Josh Norris scored two goals and Anton Forsberg made 33 saves to lift Ottawa over Florida.

Nick Brown scored two late power-play goals, and Drake Batherson had a goal and two assists. Tim Stutzle, Dylan Gambrell and Austin Watson also scored for Ottawa. Connor Brown had three assists.

Sam Reinhart and Jonathan Huberdeau scored for the Panthers, who lost at home for the second time this season. The Senators have won five of six.

Florida goaltender Spencer Knight gave up a career-worst eight goals on 38 shots.

It was the Panthers’ worst home loss since falling 7-1 to Philadelphia on Jan. 26, 2013, and their worst overall since a 6-0 beating at Calgary on Jan. 13, 2016.

LIGHTNING 3, KINGS 2, OT

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Mathieu Joseph scored with 1:35 left in overtime to give Tampa Bay a win over Los Angeles.

Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves to win his 62nd game in 2021 regular-season and playoff games, tying Marc-Andre Fleury’s 2009 NHL record for a calendar year set with Pittsburgh.

Victor Hedman and Taylor Raddysh also scored for the Lightning. Steven Stamkos had an assist and moved within a point of becoming the 118th player to reach 900 points.

Drew Doughty and Viktor Arvidsson scored, and Jonathan Quick stopped 27 shots for the Kings.

RED WINGS 2, ISLANDERS 1

DETROIT (AP) — Alex Nedeljkovic made 33 saves and Detroit ended a three-game skid with a victory over New York.

Dylan Larkin got his team-high 11th goal and Michael Rasmussen also scored for the Red Wings.

Anders Lee scored and Ilya Sorokin made 37 saves for the Islanders, who had won two of three following an 11-game losing streak.

SABRES 4, JETS 2

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Rasmus Dahlin scored twice and Buffalo snapped a seven-game winless streak with a victory over Winnipeg.

Anders Bjork and Jeff Skinner also scored for the Sabres, who are 1-5-2 in their last eight games. Tage Thompson and Victor Olofsson each had two assists.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made his fourth straight start and stopped 32 shots as the Sabres began a three-game road trip.

Pierre-Luc Dubois had a goal and an assist, and Nikolaj Ehlers also scored for the Jets. Connor Hellebuyck made 23 saves in Winnipeg’s first game of a three-game homestand.

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