OTTAWA – James Neal scored in regulation and again in the shootout and Evgeni Malkin sealed the deal in the breakaway competition as the Pittsburgh Penguins earned a 2-1 victory against the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place on Sunday night.
Colin Greening had the lone goal for the Senators, who dropped to 3-1-1.
"It was a little sloppy at times, but you've got to win them like that," Neal said. "It's going to be like that at times this year. [Marc-Andre] Fleury was big for us tonight."
Ottawa controlled the play through the early part of the game, but the Penguins (3-2-0) struck first, when Malkin picked off a long breakout pass by Zack Smith. Malkin blew past Smith along the left boards, then sent a cross-ice pass to Neal, who one-timed a rocket past Craig Anderson's glove hand at 13:31 in the first period.
Less than a minute later, the Penguins nearly went up 2-0 when Brandon Sutter snuck up on Anderson and almost slipped a backhanded shot past his left pad. The puck went wide of the post at the last second, and the Ottawa crowd breathed an audible sigh of relief.
Ottawa almost tied the game in the dying seconds of the period, when on a shorthanded breakaway, Erik Condra tore up the ice into the Penguins' zone. But Kris Letang caught Condra before the Ottawa forward was able to get a decent shot on Fleury (31 saves).
The Senators would tie the game in the second period, when Jason Spezza's shot on Fleury from the top of the left circle hit the goaltender in the chest, allowing Fleury to cradle the puck in his arms. He then dropped the puck, and Greening was able to capitalize on a tap-in in front of the net at 13:44.
Sidney Crosby almost put the Penguins up 2-1 when a giveaway by Erik Karlsson along the boards was picked up by the Pittsburgh captain. Crosby fired a wrist shot on Anderson, but the goaltender saw the puck in time to make the stick save.
Neal, Crosby and Malkin all beat Anderson in the shootout. Fleury denied Milan Michalek in the opening round, before Jason Spezza and Kyle Turris each found the back of the net.
The Pittsburgh captain acknowledged that it wasn't the slickest game, but that the Penguins needed a boost to break their two-game skid.
"There are all kinds of guys out there who can make plays for us in this short season," Crosby said. "It's something we've been working on. [We know] there are high expectations for us.
"We obviously didn't want to keep sliding. Every game is so important. It wasn't a pretty one, but it was good we were able to find a way."
Brooks Orpik said the team had Ottawa in their sights coming in, and knew the game could be a turning point.
"We wanted to make a conscious effort against [Ottawa] to limit scoring chances," Orpik said. "Goals against is something we've struggled with in the first part of this season, and especially against the Senators last season."
On the other bench, Paul MacLean remained upbeat despite the loss, singling out the play of Turris, alongside Guillaume Latendresse and Jakob Silfverberg.
"I thought the Turris line did a great job playing against Crosby's line," MacLean said. "It was a challenge for Kyle to do that, I know. I think he did really well."
MacLean was observed giving the Senators an animated speech with eight minutes to go left in the third period. Karlsson said the coach was using the opportunity to calm his players down.
"We were running around and weren't controlling the puck enough," Karlsson said. "He was trying to tell us that we had more time than we thought [with the puck]."
Daniel Alfredsson was a late scratch on Sunday due to the flu, but MacLean anticipates that he will be at practice on Monday, and will likely be available for the Senators' next game against the Washington Capitals at home on Tuesday.
Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen left the game after the first period with a lower-body injury and did not return. Pens coach Dan Bylsma said Niskanen will be re-evaluated once the team returns to Pittsburgh.