Sidney Crosby’s 700th NHL assist came in the third period Wednesday. The only reason it didn’t come a period earlier is because league rules ban awarding assists to the player who scores the goal.
Crosby’s numerical milestone was overshadowed by a highlight-reel goal, and both helped the Penguins overcome a sloppy start for a 5-3 bounce-back victory against the Montreal Canadiens.
Jake Guenztel had a goal and two assists, Evgeni Malkin added his 41st goal and Patric Hornqvist and Derick Brassard had power-play tallies for the Penguins (42-27-5), who won 24 hours after a listless 4-1 defeat in Brooklyn to move to within two points of Metropolitan Division-leading Washington (91 points).
“We’re still working towards playing our best, but with some of the bounces tonight and just having to rebound, I think it was an important two points,” Crosby said. “We still feel like we can play better, but I think it was a good step.”
During the first two periods alone, the Penguins let up two clean breakaways (one by Paul Byron 16 seconds into the game), took at least two ill-advised penalties, missed a penalty shot, allowed a short-handed goal and were tagged with eight official giveaways.

Against one of the NHL’s worst teams, it wasn’t shaping into the type of bounce-back performance that coach Mike Sullivan and his assistants will consider a prototype in their film study.
But the Penguins still managed an early 2-0 lead and would trail for only 38 seconds. That’s because Crosby answered an odd Jacob de la Rose goal — he pounced on a loose puck that had deflected at least 10 feet up in the air, slamming it in past Casey DeSmith ­­— with one that was unique and perhaps much more impressive.
“Jaw-dropping,” DeSmith called Crosby’s goal. “That’s a world-class player making a world-class play.”

It started innocently enough with Crosby in possession of the puck coming out of the left-wing corner. He threw it to the high slot — where Guentzel was looking for space between Montreal defenders — and took off for the net.
Guentzel got a piece of the puck, effectively giving an unintentional/intentional “bounce pass” up and toward the right side of Canadiens goalie Carey Price. But before it made it to Price’s blocker so he could swat it away, Crosby used his stick to tip it — out of mid-air — forward as he skated through the low slot.
Crosby took one more stride and reached out to retrieve the puck he had just passed to himself, batting it out of the air past Price for his 24th goal of the season.
“Are you surprised, really?” said Price, a Canadian teammate of Crosby’s on the gold-medal winning 2014 Olympic and 2016 World Cup of Hockey teams. “It was a great play. I tried to hit it and he got it first, then he batted it back in. That’s pretty impressive.”
Said Crosby: “I was just trying to follow the bouncing puck and it worked out. It was nice to see one go in.”
It sparked the Penguins to a strong finish, too — the Penguins held a 14-9 edge in shots from that point on. Brassard scored what was ultimately the winner 2 minutes and 38 seconds into the third, and the Penguins played a much better game from that point on to preserve the win.
“We didn’t unravel,” Sullivan said. “We just stayed with it, and the third period was a strong period for our guys at both ends of the rink. That’s the type of team we have to be.”
The Canadiens have the NHL’s worst road record (now 9-24-4) and hadn’t scored a goal in either of their previous two outings. They were on a three-game losing streak and had lost seven of their past eight but were buoyed by Price’s first start in 14 games (concussion).
Malkin’s goal that opened the scoring midway through the first period initially appeared to be one that surely would not survive the challenge from Canadiens coach Claude Julien. But the goal stood.
DeSmith made 27 saves in his first start since Tristan Jarry was sent to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.