PITTSBURGH - Sidney Crosby may have picked up a new hobby during his lengthy layoff for concussion-like symptoms: agitator.
The Pittsburgh Penguins superstar collected three assists in a 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators on Friday, though it was his play in front of his own net that raised eyebrows.
Crosby mixed it up with Ottawa's Nick Foligno early in the third period, the start of a brief dust-up in which Crosby and Foligno exchanged cross-checks, before the Penguins star elbowed Foligno in the head.
Both players earned minor penalties -- Crosby for elbowing, Foligno for roughing -- and Foligno took exception with Crosby hitting him up high to clear space in front of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
"It's not a big deal, but it is something that he preached all summer about that we should limit that and then he goes and does it, so I was just a little disappointed," Foligno said. "But, you know, that's a small part of the game and it's over now."
So was the game following a first-period explosion by the Penguins.
Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy, Steve Sullivan and Evgeni Malkin all scored within a 7:25 span to turn a one-goal deficit into a 4-1 lead, chasing Ottawa starting goaltender Craig Anderson before the period was halfway gone.
Crosby assisted on three of the goals -- including a beautiful cross-ice feed to Kunitz following a shot fake -- as the Penguins bounced back from a loss to St. Louis on Wednesday in style.
"I think we wanted to start better than we did last game," Crosby said. "It was just a matter of doing that. They scored early but we knew there was a lot of time left and we could get back into the game. Everyone responded well, and that carried over for the next two periods."
Crosby now has seven points -- two goals, five assists -- in three games since returning. He also has eight penalty minutes and not shied away from contact.
The Senators noticed. Foligno popped him cleanly in the second period, and Crosby didn't hesitate to skate into traffic.
His brief scuffle with Foligno in the third came while he was trying to protect goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who finished with 24 stops and noticed the familiar No. 87 doing some of the dirty work just outside the crease.
"Sid stood up for me there, that was nice," Fleury said. "It's nice to have your teammates back you up."
Jordan Staal and Pascal Dupuis also scored for the Penguins while Kennedy and Paul Martin had two assists.
Kaspars Daugavins, Jared Cowen and Erik Condra scored for the Senators while Auld stopped 30 shots in relief of Anderson.
"I think the game was lost in the first five minutes by not being prepared to play," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "That's my responsibility to make sure the team is ready to play."
The big lead allowed the Penguins to experiment with the lines. Crosby even played alongside Malkin and Staal for once shift, failing to produce a goal but providing plenty of opportunities.
"We play one shift, it's three terrors, we surprised them," Malkin said. "We never played (together before) and had good chances to score. I like it. It two great offensive guys who can control the puck and make passes."
The spirited first period was a welcome change for the Penguins, who have slept-walked through the opening 20 minutes -- Crosby's debut excluded -- at times this season.
Not Friday, though the Senators gave Pittsburgh a pretty early wake-up call. Daugavins collected a shot from teammate Zack Smith and slipped it by Fleury to give the Senators a quick 1-0 lead just over a minute into the game.
Their momentum lasted all of 27 seconds, or the amount of time it took Pittsburgh to tie it up following a breathtaking end-to-end rush. Crosby faked a slapshot on the break then threaded a pass to Kunitz, who fired it into the wide open net.
The Penguins were just getting started, scoring four goals over the next 7:25 to chase Anderson, who had no real chance on any of the tallies.
Kennedy gave the Penguins the lead, banking the puck off Anderson's pads and into the net from a thin angle behind the goal line.
The bad bounces didn't stop there for Anderson. Sullivan threw it in front only to have it go off the stick of an Ottawa defenceman and by Anderson to make it 3-1.
Malkin notched his seventh of the season less than 2 minutes later, ripping one by Anderson from the high slot. Anderson's night was over, and so was Ottawa's chances of ending a six-game road trip with a win.
NOTES: Fleury recorded the ninth assists of his career on Kennedy's goal. ... Ottawa the road trip with a 3-2-1 mark. ... The crowd of 18,610 was the largest in the Consol Energy Center's history. ... The Penguins travel to Montreal on Saturday while the Senators host Carolina on Sunday.