SAINT PAUL, Minn. - Having his worst offensive year as a pro, and coming back from a brief absence due to injury, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby reaffirmed his marquee status on Saturday.
Crosby scored a goal and added an assist in the Penguins' 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. Center Eric Fehr and right winger Patric Hornqvist also scored for the Penguins (17-14-3), who won their second game in a row.
Pittsburgh received 25 saves from goaltender Matt Murray and improved to 2-4-0 since Mike Sullivan took over as coach on Dec. 12.
"I think that's what the expectation is. I think that's what Sid expects of himself," said Sullivan of Crosby, who now has seven goals in 33 games. "He's a dangerous player. I thought he was hard on pucks. He scored a great goal on a great shot, and that's what we come to expect from him because we think he's that good of a player."
Left winger Jason Zucker scored for the Wild (18-10-6), who spent much of the night chasing the Penguins. Goalie Devan Dubnyk had 29 saves for Minnesota, which is 1-3-0 in its past four games and has lost six of its past seven meetings with the Penguins.
Pittsburgh got a boost before the opening puck was dropped with two key players returning to their lineup. Crosby had missed the last game - a 5-2 home win over the Columbus Blue Jackets - with a lower-body injury, and defenseman Kris Letang had played in just one of the previous nine games because of an upper-body ailment.
Minnesota had the best early scoring chance when defenseman Marco Scandella chipped a shot over Murray after a cross-ice pass from left winger Thomas Vanek, only to clank the shot off the left post.
Pittsburgh duplicated Scandella later in the period while killing a penalty. Penguins center Nick Bonino grabbed a loose puck and snapped a shot that hit the left post behind Dubnyk, then caromed to the corner. Pittsburgh outshot Minnesota 11-4 in the scoreless first period.
"The execution from their defenseman was better that ours, but the execution of their forwards was better than ours too," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Puck support wasn't there, but there was a lot of plays where it seemed we just wanted to slap the puck to somebody else to give somebody else our garbage instead of settling it down, moving our feet and making a tape-to-tape play."
The Penguins had six straight shots on goal to start the second period. The sixth eluded Dubnyk, as left winger David Perron fed a pass to Crosby, who launched a one-timer from atop the right circle, beating the goalie on the blocker side. Crosby had played in seven consecutive games without a goal.
"We had a lot of good chances and got a few goals there but there are a lot more to be had too," said Crosby, who added this may have been Pittsburgh's best game of the season so far. "Getting those chances, creating those plays, putting teams back on their heels, we were in their zone there a lot in that second period. It's a lot more fun to play that way."
The teams traded goals less than a minute apart late in the second, with Fehr scoring off a feed from center Kevin Porter to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead and Zucker answering 45 seconds later. Vanek's long lead pass sprung Zucker to the net from the left, where he fooled Murray with a wrist shot to the blocker side.
Minnesota's momentum was short-lived. Hornqvist scored a power-play goal in the final minute of the second period, giving Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead by poking in a loose puck after Crosby banked a shot off the post.
"We didn't execute, couldn't come out of our own end, couldn't come through the neutral zone," said Wild defenseman Ryan Suter. "Turning pucks over to those guys is a tough thing to do."
NOTES: Fans turn out to see Pittsburgh C Sidney Crosby wherever he plays but if they want to see him score, Minnesota is a good place to visit. In four previous trips to face the Wild, Crosby is averaging two points per game, with three goals and five assists. ... The Wild honored the football team from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul on Saturday, with Tommies coach Glenn Caruso leading the crowd in a chant of "Let's play hockey!" before the opening faceoff. The Tommies advanced to the NCAA Division III title game earlier this month, falling to Mount Union in the final. ... Because of the NHL-mandated three-day break for Christmas, the Penguins flew to Minnesota early Saturday and had their morning skate after arriving. ... Minnesota closes a four-game homestand on Monday against the Detroit Red Wings. The Penguins are playing three of four on the road and visit the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday.