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Associated Press
10/24/2006 10:17:56 PM


PITTSBURGH (AP) - Evgeni Malkin scored a goal in his fourth consecutive game to start his career, fellow Pittsburgh rookie Jordan Staal scored his third goal in two games and the Penguins beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Tuesday night.

The Penguins, the Atlantic Division's last-place team the last four seasons, find themselves in an unfamiliar spot since the days following Mario Lemieux's comeback nearly six years ago: first place. They have won three in a row for the first time since March 19-23, 2004, a span that includes the 2004-05 labour shutdown season.

Their 5-3 record may not seem all that great, but it's a big improvement from the Penguins' nine-game losing streak to start last season. The players most responsible for their improved record created most of the offence in a game the 18-year-old Staal, 19-year-old Sidney Crosby and 20-year-old Malkin teamed to take 13 of Pittsburgh's 25 shots.

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, making his eighth consecutive start, turned aside 20 of 22 shots.

The Devils, who got goals from Scott Gomez and Sergei Brylin, lost their third in a row and have scored only 13 goals in six games.

With Malkin moved up to Crosby's line, Nils Ekman played on the Penguins' No. 2 line with Staal and Mark Recchi for the first time and scored Pittsburgh's first goal and assisted on Staal's fourth career goal . Crosby and Malkin each had a goal and an assist after being united on the No. 1 line by coach Michel Therrien on Monday.

Malkin's goal came midway through the third and was exactly the kind of highlight-reel goal he scored so often for Russia in international play and with the Russian Super League last season. Taking a cross-ice pass from Crosby in the Devils' zone, he split two defenders and did a spin move near the net to cleanly beat goaltender Martin Brodeur on a backhander to restore Pittsburgh's two-goal lead.

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