BY DAN SCIFO
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan can see confidence beginning to build for rookie forward Dominik Simon.
Playing alongside Sidney Crosby certainly helps.
Simon scored twice, Evgeni Malkin also scored two power-play goals and Crosby had three assists to reach another career milestone as the Penguins topped the Minnesota Wild 6-3 on Thursday night.
“I think when a player gets called up for the first time, there’s a bit of a wow factor and after that experience is over, I think players tend to settle in,” Sullivan said of Simon. “With each additional time players are called up, they get more comfortable with their surroundings and that’s what we’re seeing with Dominik.”
Simon made his season debut Dec. 9 against Toronto and played in six games before he was sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. Simon was recalled on Jan. 1 and scored his second NHL goal Tuesday against Carolina. He doubled that total on Thursday.
“You can tell he’s more confident using his shot,” Crosby said. “He’s finding the net, and when guys are doing that, you just tell them to keep shooting.”
Crosby passed Jaromir Jagr for second on the team’s career scoring list with 1,082 points and is now behind only current Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, who finished his career with 1,723 points. Malkin, who has 23 goals, added an assist to give him 16 goals and 31 points in his last 24 games.
Carl Hagelin had a goal and an assist and Brian Dumoulin scored once for Pittsburgh. Phil Kessel, the Penguins’ leading scorer with 58 points, also had three assists for the Penguins, who won their fifth straight home game.
Pittsburgh has wins in seven of its last nine games overall.
“We’ve been playing the right way for a couple weeks and we’ve had great results,” Crosby said. “Everybody’s chipping in and that’s a big part of it. It’s a lot more fun to play and more pucks are going in the net.”
Rookie Casey DeSmith, making his fourth straight start for Pittsburgh, stopped 23 shots. DeSmith had his bid for his first NHL shutout end when Eric Staal scored with 11:16 to play.
Staal scored his 20th of the season, Mikael Granlund added his 15th on the power play and Jonas Brodin had his fifth for the Wild, whose season-best six-game points streak ended.
Devan Dubnyk made 17 saves on 21 shots before he was pulled after Dumoulin’s goal in the second period. Alex Stalock stopped 16 shots in relief.
“We got killed,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I mean, we got outplayed in every facet of the game. When you score three goals late, it makes it look a little better, but they stopped playing a little bit and we got a couple breaks and scored goals. But when they turned it on, we had no answer for them.”
Simon opened the scoring at 3:54 of the first period on a pass from Crosby, who extended his season-best assists and points streak to nine games — the NHL’s longest active run. Crosby has three goals and 19 points during the streak. He is one goal shy of his 400th of his NHL career.
Malkin scored a power-play goal later in the period. His centering attempt from behind the net hit Wild D Ryan Suter and Dubnyk and crossed the line.
Pittsburgh extended the lead to 4-0 on second-period goals scored by Hagelin and Dumoulin.
Hagelin scored from the slot on Malkin’s setup, and Dumoulin finished a tic-tac-toe passing sequence from Crosby and Hagelin 1:27 later.
Malkin scored his second power-play goal off Suter’s skate at 1:42 of the third period and Simon scored his second of the game, making it 6-0, just 50 seconds later.
“I think he’s getting more and more confident,” Crosby said of Simon. “He’s a smart player and he’s shooting the puck well, especially the last couple games.”
NOTES: Wild F Matt Cullen, who helped the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups, returned to Pittsburgh for the first time since signing with Minnesota in the summer as a free agent. … Penguins G Matt Murray was active for the first time since Jan. 7, serving as the backup to DeSmith. He returned home to Canada on Jan. 17 following the death of his father, James. … Malkin appeared in his 753rd game, tying Jean Pronovost for fourth on the team’s all-time list. … Wild F Nino Niederreiter skated Wednesday and could return Feb. 2 against the Vegas Golden Knights. … The Penguins re-assigned G Tristan Jarry to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Wednesday. … Pittsburgh scratched defensemen Chad Ruhwedel and Matt Hunwick along with F Ryan Reaves. Minnesota sat D Mike Reilly and F Chris Stewart.
Wild: Visit Columbus on Tuesday.
Penguins: Continue a four-game homestand Tuesday against San Jose.
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