PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins endured a brutal stretch in the opening days of the season in which high-profile players headed to injured reserve with alarming regularity.
Yet rather than panic, head coach Mike Sullivan used it as an opportunity to make sure the good habits he believes his team will need to win in one of the NHL's most competitive divisions become ingrained. Take fewer risks on defense. Make the simple pass on offense.
Do both well enough for long enough and Sullivan knows the scoring will take care of itself, kind of the way it did during a 7-1 demolition of the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.
The Penguins poured in four goals during a 6:05 span of the first period — matching their first-period total on the season coming in — and Pittsburgh rarely let up in its biggest regular-season blowout over their cross-state rivals in 11 years.
"We're playing the game the right way, the way we want to play it and when we all buy in the way the guys are buying in right now, I think we're a very good hockey team," Sullivan said. "Tonight we were able to finish on some of the chances we got early in the first period. I give our players credit. They had the right mindset from the drop of the puck."
Sidney Crosby, wearing a facemask as extra protection after getting hit in the head by a shot over the weekend, had a goal and two assists to boost his career point total against the Flyers to 102. Dominik Simon and Dominik Kahun also had a goal and two assists apiece for Pittsburgh, which finished a busy October 8-5-0, not bad considering forwards Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, Nick Bjugstad and Alex Galchenyuk were among the group that watched the majority of the action from the press box while sidelined with injuries.
Though Malkin remains out indefinitely with a lower-body injury, the others have made their way back, giving an already confident group a noticeable boost.
"I think you feel the energy," Crosby said. "When guys come back in the lineup they've been sitting around for a while, they're eager to get out there and I think that energy can help you. I think everyone for the first period there especially, everyone was involved and that really feeds the whole team when you can get everyone going like that."
Jared McCann, Justin Schultz, Zach Aston-Reese and Jake Guentzel also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray stopped 29 shots to win for the sixth time in his last seven starts.
Oskar Lindblom got his sixth goal for the Flyers, but Philadelphia was simply overwhelmed by the Penguins during a first-period onslaught in which Pittsburgh beat Brian Elliott four times in just more than six minutes. Elliott, given the start two days after Carter Hart was pulled in a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders, stuck around to finish with 30 saves but the Flyers were never in it over the final two periods.
"For sure, there's some anger in here," Elliott said. "We have to be controlled about it, too. You have to take what you can from this game and move on. We know we didn't have what we needed to win out here. You could see that in pretty much every aspect of the game."
Schultz's first goal of the season came on an innocent flick from above the right circle 5:57 into the game on a shot that fluttered over Elliott's right shoulder. While Rust and Kahun occupied three Philadelphia defenders at the side of the net just more than two minutes later, McCann skated into the slot and flipped the puck past Elliott to double Pittsburgh's lead. The din from McCann's goal had barely died down when Crosby's drop pass to Simon gave him plenty of room to beat Elliott and give the Penguins their third goal in a span of 2:49.
Crosby's assist gave him 100 points in 68 career games against the Flyers. By the end of the period, he pushed the total to 101 thanks to a pretty cross-ice pass from Simon that Crosby turned into his fifth goal of the season and 42nd all-time against Philadelphia. The score also capped Pittsburgh's first four-goal first period since Dec. 17, 2011, against Buffalo.
Murray, given little to do while his teammates pounded Elliott early, made sure the cushion stood up. Only Lindblom's goal 1:57 into the third prevented Murray from posting a second straight shutout.
"It was horrible," Philadelphia center Sean Couturier said. "Embarrassing. We didn't come out strong. They were ready. They gave it to us."
NOTES: Philadelphia went 0 for 4 on the power play. The Penguins were 0 for 3. ... The Flyers scratched D Samuel Morin. ... Pittsburgh scratched D Chad Ruhwedel and Juuso Riikola and C Sam Lafferty. ... Pittsburgh has allowed five even-strength goals in its last five games.
Flyers: Visit New Jersey on Friday. Philadelphia drummed the Devils 4-0 on Oct. 9.
Penguins: Get three days off at home before hosting Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.