SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins wasted little time in putting the irritation of a three-game winless streak behind them on Friday.
The Penguins burst out with three goals in the first period and held on from there to claim a 5-3 win over the Syracuse Crunch at the Onondaga County War Memorial.
Simon Despres and Brian Gibbons led the party with a goal and two helpers each while Chris Conner, Jayson Megna and Tom Kostopoulos each added single goals. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton netminder Jeff Deslauriers made 24 stops.
“We’ve been struggling with that. We’ve been getting off to tough starts,’’ Gibbons said. “We’ve been focusing on that all week.’’
The win lifted the Penguins back into first place in the East Division, tied with Binghamton and one point ahead of Syracuse and Norfolk.
Vladdy Namestnikov, Evan Rankin and Danick Gauthier lit the lamp for the Crunch, and goalie Riku Helenius made 22 saves.
Helenius was making his first start since Oct. 19, when he suffered a lower body injury in a contest vs. Binghamton. The Pens exploited that rustiness in the first by beating him three times on seven shots.
Conner rang up the last one of those at the 19:44 mark. With the Penguins on a power play, Despres’ blast from the high slot ticked off his leg and skittered past Helenius for a 3-0 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton lead.
Megna posted the Penguins’ second tally of the opening period, one-timing a pass from Despres past Helenius at the 11:23 mark.
“I was gone for a couple of weeks. Maybe there was a little rust,’’ Helenius said.
Despres opened the scoring just 2:26 into the contest. His bid from the left circle looked harmless but it slithered under a sliding Crunch defender and eluded Helenius low stick side.
“We were ready to play,’’ Penguins coach John Hynes said. “We started well. We were able to get everybody going into the game. That gets everybody into rhythm. We worked for our chances and were able to convert them.’’
The Crunch fought back to pull within 4-2 after two. Syracuse’s Cedric Paquette won a faceoff in the left circle, and Rankin’s low wrister from the mid-slot solved Deslauriers with 18.2 seconds left for the final salvo of the second.
That answered a score by Kostopoulos at the 12:55 mark. The Crunch fought off heavy Pens pressure during a power play, but seconds after the man-advantage ended Kostopoulos capped off another push with a swipe from just outside the crease for a 4-1 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton edge.
“I wouldn’t say we played a bad game,’’ Crunch defenseman J.P. Cote said. “We just played a game of mistakes. The shots we gave them were way more dangerous than the chances we had for us.’’
Namestnikov put his team on the board at the 7:29 mark of the second. Linemate Nikita Kucherov made the play with some patient puckhandling through the right side of the Pens zone.
Kucherov then threaded the biscuit into the left circle to Namestnikov, who lasered a bid past Deslauriers to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Gibbons gave the Pens an insurance tally early in the third. He was left alone outside the right side of the crease, from where he easily flipped in a pass from Conner for a 5-2 Penguins lead at the 1:41 mark.
“We wanted to have a pretty complete team effort,’’ Hynes said of the offensive balance. “That’s something we didn’t have the last couple of games.’’
Penguins 5, Syracuse 3
First period — 1. Penguins, Despres 3 (Mikkelson), 2:26. 2. Penguins, Megna 4 (Despres, Gibbons), 11:23. 3. Penguins, Conner 6 (Despres, Gibbons), 19:44 (PP). Penalties — Dumoulin WBS (cross-checking), 11:01; Sergeev SYR (interference), 11:14; McNeill WBS (fighting), 14:07; Angelidis SYR (fighting), 14:07; Mikkelson WBS (fighting), 14:45; Mormina SYR (fighting), 14:45; Dumoulin WBS (cross-checking), 15:53; Megna WBS (cross-checking), 16:02; Cote SYR (tripping), 16:02; Richard SYR (roughing), 18:12.
Second period — 4. Syracuse, Namestnikov 8 (Kucherov, Cote), 7:29. 5. Penguins, Kostopoulos 5 (Harrington, Ebbett), 12:55. 6. Syracuse, Rankin 5 (Paquette), 19:41. Penalties — McNeill WBS (interference), 3:21; Paradis SYR (closing hand on puck), 10:49.
Third period — 7. Penguins, Gibbons 6 (Conner, Zolnierczyk), 1:41. 8. Syracuse, Gauthier 2 (Namestnikov), 10:38. Penalties — Ebbett WBS (hooking), 12:29; Henry SYR (holding), 15:16.
Shots on goal — Penguins 7-8-12-27; Syracuse 6-11-10-27
Power-play opportunities — Penguins 1-4; Syracuse 0-4
Goalies — Penguins, Deslauriers 8-2-2 (27 shots-24 saves); Syracuse, Helenius 2-2-0 (27 shots-22 saves)
Referee — Kendrick Nicholson.
Linesmen — Fraser McIntyre, Derek Sylvester
A — 5,112