Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Matt Cooke sends Ottawa Senators defenseman Sergei Gonchar into the boards during first period action in Ottawa, Tuesday March 15, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
OTTAWA - The Pittsburgh Penguins are using a simple strategy to pray on the NHL's bottom feeders.
"We're playing the way the Penguins play. We're doing all the right things in the system. We're trusting each other to be there and back each other up and we're playing hard," Pittsburgh centre Jordan Staal said after collecting a goal and an assist in Tuesday's 5-1 thumping of the lowly Ottawa Senators.
Tyler Kennedy also had a goal and a helper, while Chris Kunitz added three assists for the Penguins, who were also 5-1 winners over the last-place Edmonton Oilers at home Sunday.
Ben Lovejoy, Matt Cooke and Zbynek Michalek also scored for Pittsburg (41-22-8), while Paul Martin and Dustin Jeffrey had two assists each.
The night also marked Alex Kovalev's return to Ottawa.
Kovalev, who underachieved in the Nation's Capital after arriving as a free agent in the summer of 2009, was booed at the start of the night but went largely unnoticed.
"For me it was like any other game, just coming in and trying to get the two points, climb in the standings and try to get first place," said Kovalev, who had an assist in the third period.
The win gave the Penguins a big two points as they battle for top spot in the East. They trail first-place Philadelphia by just three points.
The 29th-place Senators (25-36-9) have now lost two straight after their three-game winning streak was snapped with a 6-4 loss in Buffalo on Sunday.
Ryan Shannon had the lone goal for the Senators, while Craig Anderson allowed five goals on 41 shots. Brent Johnson turned aside 21-of-22 shots for the win.
"Obviously it's not the way you want to lose. When you get outshot 41 to whatever it is, that's not our game," Anderson said.
"The way we were winning games was playing a 2-1 gritty hockey game, taking away the other team's chances and capitalizing on our opportunities. Tonight Pittsburgh played their system to a tee and they capitalized on our mistakes."
Kennedy gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead in an otherwise uneventful opening period before the two teams scored three goals in just over three minutes to start the second.
Staal's ninth of the season put Pittsburgh up 2-0 at 1:21, scoring into an empty net from the top of the crease following a few seconds of chaos surrounding Anderson.
Shannon cut the lead in half less than a minute later, but Lovejoy restored the two-goal cushion at 3:05 when he moved in from the point and sent a shot from the top of the faceoff circle through Anderson's legs.
Cooke then put Pittsburgh up 4-1 at 7:35. The goal was upheld by a video review to ensure Cooke did not kick the puck into the net.
Michalek scored the only goal of the third period, giving the Penguins a comfortable 5-1 lead.
Despite holding a 13-6 advantage in shots the Penguins only led 1-0 after the first period.
Paul Martin took a point short that was heading wide before Kennedy redirected the puck off both posts and in behind Anderson for a 1-0 Penguins lead at 9:14.
It was just the second goal in eight games for Kennedy, who has 16 on the season.
Notes: The Senators recalled defenceman Andre Benoit and forward Jim O'Brien from Binghamton of the American Hockey League for Tuesday's game. ... Ottawa is 17-6-1-5 in its last 27 games against Pittsburgh since April 22, 2003. ... The Penguins recalled defencemen Corey Potter and Steve Wagner from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL. ... The Penguins were missing eight players due to injury or illness. Included in that list are injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. ... The Penguins have now lost 288 man games to injury compared with just 185 all of last season. ... Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has a 30-11-5 record and a goals-against average of 2.12 and a save percentage of .928 since Nov. 12.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly described the sequence of goals.