Sidney Crosby is back to doing Sidney Crosby things. The Pittsburgh Penguins are winning.
It's hardly a coincidence.
Crosby scored three straight goals for his first natural hat trick in more than five years, and the Penguins opened the second half of the season with a rollicking 6-5 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
The two-time NHL MVP boosted his goal total to 20 and has scored in each of Pittsburgh's last eight home games. The Penguins have won four straight and lost just once in regulation since Jan. 6.
Suddenly, Pittsburgh's muddled start feels like a long time ago. Crosby has 11 goals since Jan. 1, most in the NHL.
"There are nights where you feel like you have a ton of chances and it doesn't go in and to get them in bunches is nice, especially a game like this where it's high scoring and you pretty much know that the last goal is going to win it," Crosby said.
Chris Kunitz had a goal and two assists. Kris Letang added a goal and an assist, and Matt Cullen also scored for Pittsburgh. The Penguins' six goals were a season high.
Marc-Andre Fleury settled down after a shaky start and finished with 18 saves.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mark Stone, Cody Ceci, Chris Wideman and Dave Dziurzynski scored for the Senators. Craig Anderson made 38 stops while spending most of the night dealing with a swarm of black jerseys directly in front of him.
"Anderson was excellent tonight," Ottawa coach Dave Cameron said. "We hung him out to dry."
The Penguins headed into the All-Star break stressing the need to maintain the intensity they showed during a 6-2-3 January surge that moved them back into playoff position. The run was fueled by a streaking Crosby, who has taken to heart new coach Mike Sullivan's advice to get to the front of the net.
Crosby tied for the NHL lead with eight goals in January and wasted little time getting back to work following an All-Star snub, one he likely deserved after a sluggish opening three months of the season. His three scores against the Senators came from close range, including a pair from right on the doorstep.
"I think he's doing the same things; he's going to the right areas and the puck is going in," Kunitz said. "The confidence thing obviously for everybody on the ice when he gets going, gets everybody going."
The hat trick was the ninth of Crosby's career and first since Oct. 12, 2013, against Tampa Bay. It was his first natural hat trick since doing it against the Atlanta Thrashers on Dec. 2, 2010.