The Pittsburgh Penguins refuse to let injuries or suspensions slow them down.
Hours after losing top defenseman Kris Letang to a two-game suspension, the Penguins got goals from four players and a pair of assists by Matt Cooke as they beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 at the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night.
Letang was suspended by the NHL for a boarding call against Alexander Burmistrov in Monday's 2-1 loss at Winnipeg. The Penguins recalled defenseman Brian Strait from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL -- only to have Strait leave in the second period with an upper-body injury. That left the Penguins with just five defensemen -- the top pairing of Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin each played more than 29 minutes.
"That was a lot of tough minutes for a lot of guys out there," Pens coach Dan Bylsma said. "7 (Martin) and 4 (Michalek) in particular played a ton of hockey in tough situations.”
The Penguins are already without their top two centers, Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (knee), as well as top-four defenseman Brooks Orpik and top-six forward Tyler Kennedy. Another forward, Joe Vitale, missed nearly a period after taking a stick to the face.
And yet, the Penguins found a way.
"It seems some bad luck keeps happening to this team. We keep battling through it and I think we are doing a really good job," Michalek said. "We are not a fancy team right now by any means. We just try to do the dirty work, play good defensively and rely on our goaltending."
Bylsma was particularly impressed with the leadership his group has shown.
"It's about the guys in that room and how we can play. It's about certainly playing the right way," he said. "Tough spots, tough games in many nights, back-to-back games and a lot of great leadership from our guys tonight."
Chris Kunitz helped by giving the Penguins a lead just 46 seconds into the game, when he deflected defenseman Greg Zanon's clearing attempt and turned a give-and-go pass from Pascal Dupuis into his first goal of the season.
Brad Staubitz's high stick on Vitale early in the second period yielded a four-minute power play for the Penguins, and Cooke poked the rebound of Michalek's slapper to Jordan Staal, who shifted around Niklas Backstrom and made it 2-0 at 7:14.
Cal Clutterbuck's shorthanded goal during the second half of the long power play made it 2-1 at 8:07, but Neal capitalized on a turnover by Marco Scandella scored his sixth goal in seven games at 3:38 of the third. Pascal Dupuis then took Cooke's pass and scored on a shorthanded breakaway at 12:21, negating any damage from Guillaume Latendresse's goal 51 seconds later.
Pittsburgh killed all five power plays and is now 20-for-20 this season on the road.
"Killing those off at different points in the game was a really big part of the game," Bylsma said.
There weren't many smiles in the home locker room after the Wild dropped to 2-2-2.
"If a team's going to come into our building, they should know that they're going to be playing against the Minnesota Wild and it should not be a lot of fun," said first-year coach Mike Yeo, an assistant with Pittsburgh when the Penguins won the Cup in 2009. "I don't think that we made Pittsburgh feel that way in the first period."
Added center Matt Cullen: "We have enough good players where we should be at the very least creating momentum and ideally putting pucks in the net."
The Wild has struggled on the power play this season and has failed to score on its last 10 tries, including the five against Pittsburgh. They are just 3-for-23 overall.
"We're not quick, we're not aggressive, and because of that, we're not tough to defend right now," Yeo said.
Material from team media was used in this report.