PITTSBURGH -- Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has seen Sidney Crosby's entire career with the Pittsburgh Penguins up close as his teammate. Rookie Jake Guentzel has transitioned from being a Crosby fan to recently being the star center's linemate.
So, each had a particular appreciation for Crosby's natural hat trick Sunday as Fleury and the Penguins shut out the Florida Panthers 4-0 at PPG Paints Arena.
"He doesn't have to score goals to be impressive and for me to say, 'Wow,'" Fleury said. "He makes so many subtle great plays. I'm happy for him that they went in pretty good for him tonight."
"Growing up you watch him, so to be honest it's pretty special," Guentzel said. "I'm trying to make the most of it."
Guentzel did that Sunday. He and the top line's right winger, Conor Sheary, each assisted on all three of Crosby's goals. Crosby's 10th career hat trick gave him sole possession of the NHL goals lead at 40 and moved him into a tie with Edmonton's Connor McDavid atop the league scoring race with 80 points each.
"Sometimes those chances go in; sometimes they don't," Crosby said. "Today I got some nice passes and guys created things, and I just happened to be in the right spot."
Fleury picked up his 44th career shutout, his second against Florida and his first of the season. He improved to 18-8-6, including 12-3-3 in his past 18 decisions.
The Penguins (45-17-9) are 7-1-1 in their past nine games and are within a point of Washington and Columbus, who are tied for the lead in the Metropolitan Division and the overall league standings. They have at least a point in nine straight meetings with Florida, 7-0-2.
The loss further diminished the playoff hopes of the Panthers (31-29-11), who are six points out of a wild card spot with 11 games remaining.
"At this point, not making any excuses, they were the better team tonight," Panthers center Derek MacKenzie said. "They're in the position they're in because of the team game, and we just didn't have it."
A clever play by Phil Kessel and a heads-up reaction by Patric Hornqvist led to the only goal of the first period. Kessel lobbed the puck over the net from behind. Hornqvist swung baseball-style and batted it out of the air past goaltender James Reimer (14-14-5, 24 saves) for a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead at 16:14.
"They did that in warmup," Fleury said. "We always play around on the last puck. That's how they scored the last goal in the warmup. Hornqvist. Same thing -- flip it over the net and he smashed it in. It just tells you it wasn't luck. These guys are very skilled."
So is Crosby, 29, who has six goals over his past four games and hit the 40-goal mark for the second time in his career.
He got going after a scoreless first period during which each team had seven shots.
"First period, I thought we played good," right winger Jaromir Jagr said of the Panthers.
Crosby scored his 38th from the right dot at 14:15 of the second for a 2-0 Penguins lead.
He added No. 39 at 16:07 of the second on a spinning backhander from the slot for a 3-0 lead.
No. 40 and the hat trick came at 5:00 of the third when Crosby one-timed a feed from Guentzel to make it 4-0.
Jagr, the 45-year-old who has 763 career goals to rank third all-time, can appreciate Crosby's talent.
"He's got good hands," Jagr said. "It's not an accident. ... He knows how to create the plays. He knows how to lift the stick. He's quick with the hands. Not just the legs, but he's quick with the hands."
NOTES: Pittsburgh C Evgeni Malkin (right shoulder) missed his second game in a row. He is day to day. The team's number of injured players remains at seven... Florida RW Jaromir Jagr became the fourth NHL player to reach 1,700 games. The Penguins ran a video tribute to the former Pittsburgh player during the first TV timeout. ... Linesman David Brisebois left with 1:35 left in the first period after he got leveled on hit in the back by Pittsburgh's Patric Hornqvist as Hornqvist rushed forward on a faceoff. Brisebois returned for the start of the second. ... The Penguins' healthy scratch was D Cameron Gaunce. ... The Panthers' healthy scratches were C Michael Sgarbossa and D MacKenzie Weegar.