PITTSBURGH — A few days off paid off for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Blake Comeau and Kris Letang scored early in the first period to lead the Penguins to a 3-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Friday night.
“We had three days without games, so we tried to get into the game as quickly as we could,” said defenceman Letang, who returned after a five-game absence because of a groin injury.
Rob Klinkhammer got his first goal with Pittsburgh to help the Penguins beat the Flames for the eighth straight time. Pittsburgh’s last loss to Calgary was on Dec. 3, 2005. Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves to improve to 6-1 all-time against the Flames.
Johnny Gaudreau had the only goal for the Flames, who have lost four in a row.
“We had a tough start,” Calgary coach Bob Hartley said. “We knew against a team like the Penguins they’ll make you pay for it.”
The Penguins played without defending NHL scoring champion Sidney Crosby, who also will miss Saturday’s game at Columbus while he awaits results from medical tests for an illness that caused the right side of his face to swell. Though there have been more than a dozen cases of mumps around the NHL, Crosby doesn’t believe he has that illness.
Crosby missed Thursday’s practice because he was wasn’t feeling well. He returned for Pittsburgh’s game-day skate and afterward declared himself fine for the game against the Flames, noting that he would not be at the arena if he had mumps.
However, the swelling was pronounced. Reports and images of the swelling caused a widespread Internet buzz, and by late afternoon the Penguins announced his two-game absence based, they said, on the recommendation of medical specialists.
“There is no indication at this time that this is the mumps, but we are going to hold him out as a precaution,” General Manager Jim Rutherford said in a release. “We’ll have additional test results in a few days.”
Crosby is among the league leaders with 35 points and had not previously missed a game.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston insisted Crosby is not dealing with mumps.
“All of our players have been tested,” he said. “There have been no tests that come back and show anything different. We were just being cautious. You saw the swelling of his face, and the doctors just thought, ‘Let’s be cautious. Let’s just be careful.’ That’s why he’s not playing.”
Both teams finished 0 for 5 on their respective power plays.
“It was not a good night for both power plays,” Hartley said. “I think we did a good job on our penalty killing, and so did the Penguins on theirs.”
The Penguins, who had not played since Monday, looked rested and energetic early.
Comeau, on a 2-on-1 break with Jayson Megna, gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead 48 seconds into the game with a shot that sailed over the blocker of Calgary goalie Jonas Hiller.
Letang tipped in a shot from the right point by Simon Despres at 4:43 of the period during a 4-on-4 play for a 2-0 Penguins lead.
“Four-on-four, you try to find open space, try to give time to other players. I was already on the rush,” Letang said. “When I saw the puck going to Simon, I just tried to find a spot where he could shoot it at me.”
The Flames closed to 2-1 with 7:45 left in the opening period when Gaudreau jumped on the long rebound of a shot by Markus Gralund and put the puck in a near-open net with Fleury caught near the right post.
Klinkhammer then scored off a pass from Steve Downie with 2:47 left in the third period.
“They put up two goals early and we’re fighting our way back. It’s tough,” Calgary winger Curtis Glencross said. “We have to be ready to go from the get go, and the other team, they came out hungry and (Comeau) made a great shot on their first goal, 40 seconds in or whatever. And got that 4-on-4 goal right after that.”