New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen (51) is checked into the boards by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh Sunday, March 10, 2013.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The Pittsburgh Penguins might not have reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin for a couple of weeks because of an undisclosed upper body injury.
Considering the way the rest of the Penguins are playing, Malkin can take his time getting healthy.
Sidney Crosby tied a career high with five assists, and Chris Kunitz posted his second hat trick of the season as the Penguins rocked the New York Islanders 6-1 on Sunday night for their fifth straight win.
Kunitz added two assists to move into third place in the NHL scoring race with 36 points, nine behind Crosby's league-leading total. It's rarified air for a player known more for his dirty work in front of the net than his talent for finding the back of it.
"He's not a flashy player," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's not a guy that goes end-to-end and tries to beat guys one on one. He's straight lines. He's real simple in how he plays."
Kunitz made it look simple on a night the NHL's highest-scoring team hardly looked tired playing its third game in 72 hours. He jammed home a couple of power-play goals to help Pittsburgh bolt to a 3-0 lead and then capped his fourth career hat trick on a rebound midway through the second period to turn away a mild New York surge.
Kunitz's career high is 61 points, set last season. There is a chance he could top that in a lockout-shortened, 48-game sprint. The nine-year veteran has a pretty easy explanation for his uptick in production.
"I get to play with the best player in the world every night," Kunitz said. "It makes going out and playing a lot of fun."
James Neal had a goal and three assists, and Pascal Dupuis scored twice for Pittsburgh. Tomas Vokoun made 23 saves to win his third straight decision.
Brad Boyes scored the lone goal for New York, which had a five-game point streak snapped. Evgeni Nabokov stopped just 12 of 17 shots in two periods before getting pulled for the final 20 minutes.
"We just didn't seem to ever get it going, and obviously they're a pretty good team," New York forward John Tavares said. "They get a 3-0 lead it's going to be pretty tough to come back."
The Islanders had lost 13 straight games in Pittsburgh before breaking through at the end of last season and backing it up with a win in Pittsburgh six weeks ago.
While New York has been a modest surprise—the Islanders entered the game just two points out of a playoff spot—they were no match for the Penguins. Pittsburgh is rolling behind a resurgent Crosby and two linemates playing perhaps the finest hockey of their careers.
Having Crosby at the peak of his powers certainly helps. Nearly a year after his most recent comeback from concussion-like symptoms, Crosby has regained his MVP form. He extended his point streak to nine games—the longest stretch in the NHL this season—and the Penguins had little trouble kicking off a three-week stretch that could help them strengthen their position atop the Atlantic Division.
"We want to make sure that we're producing," Crosby said. "We found a way to take advantage of our chances. It's something we want to keep doing."
Pittsburgh spent most of the first half of the season on the road but Sunday started a 12-game run in which the Penguins will play only twice away from home.
The Penguins didn't waste much time getting settled in. Dupuis put them up 1-0 just over 7 minutes in when his shot from the goal line clanked off the post, smacked the back of Nabokov's pad and went into the net.
Kunitz pushed the lead to 3-0 by the end of the period after a pair of power-play goals within a span of 3 minutes. He poked in a feed from Neal for his first goal and then did it again on his next shift. Kunitz took a backhand feed from Neal and slipped it by Nabokov to score Pittsburgh's 33rd first-period goal, the most in the league.
Boyes briefly got the Islanders back into it when Pittsburgh defenceman Simon Despres slipped trying to clear the puck, allowing Boyes to come in alone. He snapped a shot over Vokoun's right shoulder to make it 3-1.
Bylsma called timeout to let his weary club—playing its third game in four days—get its legs. Whatever he told them worked. Kunitz and Neal scored 16 seconds apart to make it 5-1.
"The undisciplined penalties we took killed us," New York coach Jack Capuano said. "You can't get behind to a Stanley Cup team like that 2-3 nothing. And it hurt us."
NOTES: Crosby's other five assist game came against the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 13, 2006. ... New York scratched forwards Keith Aucoin and Eric Boulton as well as defenceman Joe Finley. ... The Penguins scratched defencemen Deryk Engelland and Robert Bortuzzo. ... Pittsburgh hosts Boston on Tuesday. The Islanders are off until Thursday when they play at Tampa Bay ... The Islanders are 1-8-1 this season when Tavares doesn't record a point.
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP