NHL·WATCH

Penguins' Sidney Crosby returns from 2-month absence with 4 points, nifty assist

Sidney Crosby watched the Pittsburgh Penguins thrive in his absence. The longtime captain pledged he would simply focus on doing his part to keep the Penguins rolling in his return from a two-month layoff. Then, he scored one goal and three assists in his return to action.

32-year-old captain out since Nov. 9 helps Pittsburgh push past Minnesota

Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby works the puck in the corner with Minnesota's Matt Dumba defending during the second period of the Penguins' 7-3 win over the Wild. Crosby returned from a lengthy injury on Tuesday with one goal and three assists. (Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press)

Sidney Crosby stressed he wouldn't try to get "too fancy" in his return from a two-month layoff following abdominal surgery.

It happened anyway. The fact most of the flash cam e from Crosby's teammates during Pittsburgh's 7-3 domination of Minnesota on Tuesday night is symbolic of just how far the Penguins have come during their captain's extended absence.

Sure, Crosby delivered a sublime goal and three assists in his first game since Nov. 9. Yet he was just part of a dynamic attack that picked apart the Wild with ease.

Evgeni Malkin scored twice and delivered a pretty no-look drop pass to set up Bryan Rust's 19th goal of the season. Jared McCann scored for the fourth time in five games on a tap-in goal late in the first period that came at the end of a highlight-reel sequence in which John Marino feathered a cross-ice pass to Dominik Simon, who redirected it to McCann on the doorstep.

"It's fun to compete and with the way we work too, being out there on the bench seeing it shift after shift, it's a great way to play," Crosby said. "Everyone's involved and I think that's tough for teams to play against."

WATCH | Crosby's slick setup in return to action:

Sidney Crosby recorded a goal and three assists in his return after missing 28 games due to abdominal surgery. 1:03

Crosby needed less than eight minutes to pick up his first point since before Halloween when he assisted on Malkin's first goal of the night 7:57 into the game. Crosby added his sixth goal of the season in the third period when he slipped a backhand past Devan Dubnyk as the Penguins rolled to their fourth straight victory.

"Every player is important here in locker room but Sid is captain," Malkin said. "He is our leader. He's a great player, great teammate. You see tonight with him, it creates four lines. Power play is better. We're lucky he's back."

Crosby skated 17:53 after missing 28 games and looked just as dangerous as ever as the Penguins pulled within four points of first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division.

"He's been working so hard to kind of get back in game shape and get that speed back, get that conditioning back," Rust said. "He's obviously done a phenomenal job and I'm not surprised."

The Penguins were off to a solid but hardly spectacular start when Crosby went on injured reserve after aggravating a hernia in a loss to Chicago in early November. Yet rather than wobble with Crosby watching from the press box, Pittsburgh hit the gas. The Penguins went 18-6-4 during Crosby's layoff, the second-best record in the NHL over that span, relying on disciplined play and balanced scoring to rocket up the standings.

It's a formula that got a little more dangerous with Crosby's familiar No. 87 back in the lineup. The Penguins are still missing All-Star forward Jake Guentzel — out the rest of the regular season with a shoulder injury — and defenceman Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin, but lead the NHL in goal differential anyway.

"We're playing well," Crosby said. "It's going to get more difficult with every game, especially in the second half, things tend to tighten up. We're going to have to continue to make strides but our work ethic and attention to detail has been pretty good throughout."

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