PITTSBURGH — Languishing on a perpetually rebuilding team for more than a year taught David Perron a valuable lesson about confidence.
Good teams have them. Bad ones not so much. After wasting away in Edmonton, Perron has rediscovered his soft hands — and the back of the net — in Pittsburgh.
The forward scored twice and added an assist in a 7-2 thrashing of reeling Minnesota on Tuesday night, as the Penguins put together the kind of outburst that has been rare at times this season for one of the league's most potent attacks.
"As soon as I stepped in here I could feel the (confidence) in this group," said Perron, acquired on Jan. 2 to give Pittsburgh some needed scoring depth. "We started feeding off of that pretty quick and it was a good night for everyone."
A series of injuries has forced the Penguins to rely heavily on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to keep them in their usual spot near the top of the Eastern Conference. The players on injured reserve, however, are dwindling. The team that pushed the Wild around looked a lot like the one that steamrolled through the first month of the season.
Paul Martin, Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz each had a goal and an assist for the Penguins. Marcel Goc and Brandon Sutter also scored for Pittsburgh and Sidney Crosby picked up three assists as the Penguins posted their second-highest goal total of the year.
"We haven't been scoring like we thought we could," coach Mike Johnston said. "Certainly getting some lines back together and playing two or three games with similar combinations, you're seeing some improvement."
Fleury made 30 saves and has now beaten every other team in the league.
Niklas Backstrom stopped 29 of the 35 shots before being pulled following Letang's goal midway through the third period. Jonas Brodin and Justin Fontaine scored for the Wild, who have lost six straight and did little to make a case for embattled coach Mike Yeo. The team held a lengthy players-only meeting afterward, but it will take more than just clearing the air to get Minnesota back on track.
"We're so easy to play against," forward Zach Parise said. "We lose battles. The details of our game are terrible. We don't make it hard on the other team."
The Wild have been one of the league's biggest disappointments at the season's halfway point, wasting any momentum carried over from last year's surprise run in the second round of the playoffs.
The opening 20 minutes against the Penguins was a microcosm of the last three frustrating months. Minnesota dominated at stretches early thanks to some sloppy play by Pittsburgh, which gave the puck away in its own end with alarming regularity. Yet the Wild couldn't convert on several glistening opportunities and once the Penguins found their footing, Minnesota was simply no match.
"We use the word 'unflappable' and for whatever reason it's not in our vocabulary right now," Yeo said. "For whatever reason we just fall apart and we start to press and make bigger mistakes."
Goc scored for just the second time since the Penguins acquired him from Florida last March, swatting a rebound out of the air past Backstrom 6:16 into the game. Forward Zach Sill picked up the primary assist, giving him his first NHL point in his 48th game, the second-longest pointless streak to start an NHL-career in league history.
Perron collected his second goal in Pittsburgh and seventh of the season 12:04 into the first, grabbing a meaty rebound in front of Backstrom, then switching quickly from forehand to backhand and slipping the puck by the stunned goaltender.
Backstrom stuffed Kris Letang on a breakaway early in the second and the Wild responded with Brodin's second goal of the season on a wrist shot from near the top of the right circle. It was a one-goal game for all of 93 seconds. Kunitz camped in front of Backstrom and flipped a rebound that caromed off Evgeni Malkin into the net.
It was all the cushion Fleury would need. The Penguins poured it on in the third and tied its largest margin of victory this season.
NOTES: Penguins F Steve Downie left early in the second period after taking an elbow to the face from Minnesota D Ryan Suter. ... Penguins D Olli Maatta will undergo shoulder surgery on Wednesday and miss the rest of the season. ... Pittsburgh plays at the New York Islanders on Friday. ... The Wild visit Buffalo on Thursday.
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