Crosby leads Penguins into Anaheim to face Ducks

Feb 8, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) scores a goal past Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson (36) during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center.  

Charles LeClaire/Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

ANAHEIM, Calif. — After missing the first six games because of a concussion, Sidney Crosby has a chance to continue one of his most productive starts ever when his Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night at the Honda Center.

Crosby enters the contest with four goals and an assist in three games since returning to the lineup Oct. 25. Three years ago, Crosby collected four goals and three assists in his first three games — including two goals and an assist in the season opener against the visiting Ducks.

Last season, the two-time winner of the Hart Memorial and Art Ross trophies waited until Nov. 25 to score his fourth goal.

"I know what this means to him," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review regarding Crosby’s quick start. "He’s a focused guy. He’s a tremendous competitor and I think he’s hungry for more."

With Crosby on the ice, Pittsburgh won three consecutive games to take over first place in the Metropolitan Division while amassing 12 goals. Before their captain’s return, the Penguins scored 12 goals in six games while going 3-2-1. Four of Pittsburgh’s 12 goals since Crosby’s arrival came from the power-play unit that includes him.

"We’ve had a lot of movement and that shot mentality, and Sid’s part of that group," Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He’s got great offensive instincts so whether he’s beside the net or he’s on the half-wall or he’s in the slot, he’s a dangerous guy, whether he’s passing or shooting."

Goaltender Matt Murray, who started all but three games in last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs as a rookie, makes his season debut Wednesday night after recovering from a broken hand. Murray suffered the injury while playing for Team North America in the World Cup of Hockey. Defenseman Kris Letang also returns to the lineup for the first time since Oct. 18, when he sustained an upper-body injury against the Montreal Canadiens.

Wednesday night’s game begins the Penguins’ first West Coast trip. Pittsburgh faces the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night and the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

The Ducks are coming off Tuesday night’s 4-0 rout of the Los Angeles Kings for their fourth victory in its past six games. Rickard Rakell, a restricted free agent before the season began, had a goal and two assists in his season debut nearly three weeks after signing a six-year contract worth $22.8 million Oct. 14. Rakell’s earned one assist on the Ducks’ power play, which converted twice in three opportunities.

"Ricky’s going to be a big part of our power play," right wing Jakob Silfverberg told the Orange County Register before the game. "Anytime you can get your power play going, it helps the team get momentum and get all sorts of stuff going."

Despite their recent success, the Ducks seek improvement. Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Kings, Anaheim ranked 17th in the NHL with a 19.4 percent conversion rate on the power play and 25th with just 2.33 goals per game.

"I still think we have quite a bit of work to do," defenseman Cam Fowler told the Register. "There’s little bits and pieces of our game that can certainly improve. I know what this team can do and I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface yet."